Newhall Pharmacy loses license for selling opioids without prescriptions

After almost seven years in business, the Newhall Pharmacy on Main Street has had its pharmacy license pulled by state authorities who found the drug store, among other violations, selling heroin-like opioid drugs to people without a prescription

Victor Law, president of the Board of Pharmacy for the Department of Consumer Affairs, signed an order Feb. 27 that Newhall Pharmacy Inc. and its owner Jenisa Nusrat Chowdhury surrender the pharmacy’s license.

Her father, Moazzem Chowdhury, who owned the Newhall Pharmacy in 2017, said the drug store’s manager, registered pharmacist Charles M. Zandberg, was responsible for all operations of the pharmacy.

Chowdhury referred to his daughter, Jenisa, as a “silent owner” of the pharmacy and was not available to talk about the licensing issue Friday.

“The inventory and the operation of the pharmacy, that was his responsibility, and that was not properly done,” Chowdhury said.

“(Zandberg) had to surrender his license,” Chowdhury said, noting he’s the one who is now working at Newhall Pharmacy as the store’s paid pharmacist.

For the past four years, Jenisa Chowdhury has been studying at Rosemont University in Salt Lake City, he said. Three months ago, she become a mother.

“She was a silent owner,” Moazzem Chowdhury said, noting she was rarely in the store.

Zandberg had his license canceled by the Board of Pharmacy. He was also prohibited from serving as manager, administrator, owner, member, officer, director, associate or partner of a licensee for five years.

Efforts to reach Zandberg Friday by phone and social media were not successful.

Newhall Pharmacy came under scrutiny in April 2015, when the board received an anonymous tip that the pharmacy was selling pills of oxycodone and codeine-laced cough syrup to people without a prescription.

In court documents filed by the board, it was noted that painkillers, such as oxycodone and the codeine-laced syrup, promethazine, are commonly abused controlled substances with significant “street values.”

Many have come to know about oxycodone by its trade name, OxyContin.

It was pointed in the same court papers that oxycodone and promethazine are each deemed a “dangerous drug” under California’s Health and Safety Code.

Nine violations
Four months after the Board of Pharmacy received the tip, an inspector with the board visited Newhall Pharmacy on Main Street in Newhall, at 6th Street, across from Hart Park, and found nine violations.

The inspector found documents, including prescriptions, that were missing, when they are required to be maintained by the pharmacy.

The inspector issued a notice of noncompliance to the pharmacy for “controlled substance inventory violations.”

The same inspector did find paperwork, however, showing the pharmacy buying and selling oxycodone and other drugs between September 2012 and August 2015 without a license.

An inventory done at the pharmacy revealed several drugs were missing, the inspector revealed.

Missing pills
The inventory shortage included: 2,748 pills of oxycodone, 400 pills of oxycodone/apap and 322 missing bottles of codeine-laced syrup, according to the same inspection.

The same inventory showed “the presence of large amounts of other controlled substances, including more than a 1,800 pills of oxycodone/apap, for which there were no acquisition records.

Drug store records showed “multiple discrepancies” between the quantities of oxycodone/apap dispensed for actual prescriptions and drug-dispensing records reported to CURES, the statewide program that monitors patient controlled substance history.

In pulling the pharmacy’s license, Board of Pharmacy officials made note of nine violations they saw as cause for discipline.

Unprofessional conduct
They found the pharmacy showed unprofessional conduct, and failed to maintain necessary documents, according to the report, which also referred to misconduct in regard to the store’s management.

The store itself also failed to meet operational standards, such as making sure drugs were “safely and property maintained.”

The main cause for discipline they found was selling controlled substances to people without a prescription.

Chowdhury was forced to hand over all her actual licenses, including those mounted on the wallet and pocket-sized cards.

The Newhall Pharmacy was also told not apply for another license for three years.

And, before a new license is issued or the current one reinstated, Newhall Pharmacy must pay the state for the cost of the investigation, $12,510.75.

Jenisa Chowdhury signed the board’s order, agreeing to the terms, on Oct. 8, 2018.

Opioids
News of the license-pulling comes at a time when health officials, civic leaders and law enforcement officers are battling the proliferation of opioids and the growing number of people addicted to them.

Codeine and oxycodone, the two drugs noted by the Board of Pharmacy inspector during his investigation, are opioids. Both are considered opioids, according to Quest Diagnostics, which defines itself as a provider of diagnostic testing, services and information.

Codeine and oxycodone are included in the company’s list of semi-synthetic opiates, which are derived from compounds found in the poppy plant.

The term “opioid” refers to drugs that are chemically synthesized to mimic the physical effects of pain relief seen with opiates. They both originate from the poppy plant.

In June 2017, civic leaders, sheriff’s deputies and doctors stood up shoulder-to-shoulder against the nationwide opioid epidemic when they announced the use of Narcan as a medical tool to help stop overdose deaths and prevent heroin and opioids “devastating” the Santa Clarita Valley.

During a 72-hour period in April, eight overdose patients turned up at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. One person died. Opioids were blamed.

The proliferation of opioids in the SCV led to increase in drug-related crimes.

Pharmacy breakins
Newhall Pharmacy was one of the local drug stores targeted by burglars.

In February 2017, a “significant increase” in the number of local drugstore burglaries prompted sheriff’s officials to issue a warning to pharmacists; pharmacists also issued a plea for stepped-up patrols.

Thieves are breaking into pharmacies looking for narcotics, particularly opioids, and specifically the highly-addictive painkiller Oxycontin, Moazzem Chowdhury said in 2017, when he owned Newhall Pharmacy, according to previous reports in The Signal.

On Jan. 20, 2017, thieves broke into Newhall Pharmacy by its front door on Main Street, near the Newhall Avenue traffic roundabout, stealing some narcotics and other drugs.

“My complaint about law enforcement is that they don’t show up and ask us (pharmacy owners), ‘What can we do for you?” Moazzem Chowdhury said at the time.

Public office
Moazzem Chowdhury, who ran in the 2014 election for a seat on Santa Clarita City Council, ran on a platform hoping to become a voice for small-business owners also concerned about break-ins.

He’s seen 30 break-ins happen at his pharmacies across the SCV over the last 20 years, he said.

After at least 13 break-ins at his pharmacy near the 99 Cents Only Store on Lyons Canyon Road at Wiley Canyon Road, Moazzem Chowdhury closed up shop there in 2009.

In 2014, he closed another one of his pharmacies on Soledad Canyon Road, at Shangri-La Drive, near the Canyon Country Jo Anne Darcy Library, for the same reason.

Moazzem Chowdhury said he’s been calling for stepped up sheriff’s patrols near pharmacies since 2015, the year his drug store was licensed by the state.

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