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Auburn pharmacies near schools hit by fraudulent prescription drug ring

Founder sentenced to prison
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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A Lincoln man remains in prison after being sentenced to nearly five years in prison Tuesday for founding and leading a hydrocodone distribution ring operating out of 16 cities, including Auburn. Raymond Reyes, 29, pled guilty to charges of conspiring to distribute hydrocodone, an opiate prescribed for pain, and aggravated identity theft earlier this year, according to a release issued by U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. Court documents show that some of his conspirators filled prescriptions at Auburn-area pharmacies within 1,000 feet of schools, including a Rite Aid across the street from E.V. Cain Charter Middle School in Auburn and Meadow Vista Health Mart Pharmacy near Meadow Vista Community K-8 Community Independent Study School. Parents with students attending E.V. Cain Charter Middle School say they are relieved Reyes was sentenced and hope the school was never a target for the distribution ring’s sales. Local residents said they are disappointed the crimes were occurring in their neighborhood, while local pharmacists say doctors and pharmacists have a difficult job in making sure only legitimate patients get controlled substances. Parents weigh in “It’s kind of alarming. I’m not aware of any that is going on in the school,” said Fred Crone, an E.V. Cain parent. “They talk about marijuana use, but that’s about the extent I have heard of it.” Mark Hallbourg, of Auburn, said he also has children that attend E.V. Cain, but isn’t sure the proximity of the pharmacy to the school put his children at risk. “I am glad they caught him. If they actually confirmed that they were going over from the pharmacy to the school, then I would be concerned,” Hallbourg said. According to authorities, Reyes, who began working as a licensed medical assistant for a Sacramento cardiologist in 2006, called pharmacies using the doctor’s Drug Enforcement Administration registration number without his knowledge or consent. Later, he or one of his conspirators would pick up the prescription, according to court documents. The doctor caught Reyes ordering a prescription in 2008 and fired him. Because hydrocodone is a schedule III controlled substance, pharmacies are required to report all prescriptions of it to an electronic reporting database. The database shows that about 508 prescriptions and 97,000 pills were distributed by about 89 pharmacies under the doctor’s alleged authority. The names of about seventy-four patients were also used, often without their knowledge. Doctors, pharmacists report suspicious activity Dr. Richard Peatman, who owns Meadow Vista Health Mart Pharmacy, said pharmacists are required to monitor suspicious behavior, but believes the prescribing process should be more secure. He said a process requiring doctors to send their prescriptions electronically with a fingerprint or retinol scan could help minimize the risk of prescription fraud. He said in his pharmacy and most others, he only fills prescriptions for local patients or local doctors. “It is a very difficult thing to know if this patient is legitimate. It’s also crazy that the federal government has not required electronic transmission of controlled substances,” Peatman said. For added protection, Peatman doesn’t keep some drugs, such as Oxycontin, stocked at the pharmacy. He said in the case of Reyes’ conspirators, it is difficult to detect fraud when a prescription is issued by a doctor, but he does use the narcotics database and follow-up phone calls when he believes something is suspicious. Law enforcement agencies work together Reyes told one conspirator he made $15,000 in two days by selling the pills, court documents show. “Other conspirators learned how the scheme worked and called in their own prescriptions using the doctor’s information,” Wagner said. The case was investigated by several law enforcement agencies, including the Sacramento Resident Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Auburn Police Department, the Rocklin Police Department, the Lincoln Police Department, and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. Paul Shelgren, Lincoln police chief, said the law enforcement agencies in Sacramento led the way in the investigation because that is where the doctor’s office Reyes worked for was located. “I think it’s terrible. We live right across the street from here,” said Larry Smith, who was filling a prescription at the Rite Aid off of Highway 49 Wednesday. “That’s crazy that somebody would be doing that.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.