Couple charged with drug forgeries Police in 3 counties investigate ties to more fake prescriptions

June 19, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery county detectives are investigating whether a Baltimore man and his wife, a Johns Hopkins Hospital maintenance worker, have been the source of more than 50 fake prescriptions for powerful drugs filled in the region's pharmacies since January.

The couple was arrested just after 10 a.m. Wednesday on charges they used forged Johns Hopkins Hospital prescription sheets to buy drugs at a Glen Burnie Kmart, Anne Arundel County police said.

Linda James, 50, and Tyrone James, 41, of the 500 block of N. Bouldin St., were arrested after a pharmacist called a Johns Hopkins doctor to check the prescription they were trying to fill and learned it was not legitimate, said Detective Glenn Shanahan.

Shanahan said Northern District officers arrested Tyrone James as he was waiting to pick up the drugs at the counter. His wife was found waiting in a car in the parking lot.

The couple had been trying to get Percocet, a narcotic painkiller; Retrovir, a drug for AIDS patients; and Klonopin, used to treat high blood pressure, Shanahan said. He said such drugs, taken in combinations with other drugs, can induce a high to a "heroin-like level."

Police found a gym bag in the Jameses' car with two or three prescription bottles filled with Retrovir -- which were tracked to an Annapolis Rite-Aid pharmacy -- and a daily planner containing a blank prescription pad from Johns Hopkins, Shanahan said. Police also found several suspected forged prescriptions in Linda James' purse and some prescription receipts in her husband's wallet, he said.

"Based on the numbers [of drugs] they had, they're probably taking some and selling some," he said, adding that the couple could have been selling the drugs in "open air drug markets" in Baltimore.

Joann Rodgers, spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Hospital, would not comment on the arrests but said Linda James had worked in the hospital's department of environmental services since July 1992. She would not comment on whether or how James might have had access to prescription pads and whether the hospital had seen such cases before.

Joint investigation

Detectives from the three counties have been working together for about two weeks investigating the prescription fraud cases, which began to increase in number in March. All the cases involve the three drugs the Jameses were trying to buy Wednesday, Shanahan said.

In Anne Arundel, Shanahan said, he has linked Linda James to at least two other incidents earlier this month, where she allegedly used her name to obtain fraudulent prescriptions for Percocet and Klonopin at the Glen Burnie Kmart. During one, Shanahan said Linda James walked into the pharmacy with her Johns Hopkins identification badge around her neck and flashed it when buying the drugs. Police confiscated her card after arresting her.

Shanahan said he was investigating whether the couple is behind a January prescription fraud at a Glen Burnie Target pharmacy, along with others that have occurred recently in the county.

40 fake prescriptions

Officer Carol Allen, of the Montgomery County Police Department, said eight pharmacies in that county have been hit with 40 fake prescriptions since March.

She said all 40 incidents probably were linked because "it's the same prescription blanks from the same hospital, the same handwriting." Allen said those prescription sheets were not from Johns Hopkins.

In Howard County, Detective Les Stickles said there have been a few similar prescription fraud cases since March in Ellicott City. He said the pharmacy in one of the incidents caught the suspect on its security camera. He plans to talk to Shanahan to see if the Jameses committed the Howard frauds.

Caution urged

Charles F. Cichon, vice president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, said that to catch prescription fraud artists, pharmacists should pay extra attention to customers with new prescriptions, especially customers who show up at the pharmacy after hours so their doctors cannot be contacted if pharmacists have doubts.

Strange drug combinations

He said they should also watch for customers seeking prescriptions filled for combinations of drugs that "don't make sense," and people wanting to fill multiple prescriptions or asking for large amounts of drugs.

"A lot of physicians will not write a prescription for 100 tablets of a drug," said Cichon, who also is a chief compliance analyst with the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance.

"They'll usually write one for a 30- or 10-day supply. Most pharmacists are aware of the problems that exist."

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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