Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 9.51.45 AM.pngApril and Joe Rovero hold a picture of their son Joey with his birthday cupcakes. He had flown home from Arizona State University to celebrate his 20th birthday with his family and girlfriend. He was 21 when he died from a drug overdose. (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles Times / June 24, 2012)

By Scott Glover, Lisa Girion and Hailey Branson-Potts

Joey Rovero’s quest for pills ended at Pacifica Pharmacy.

It was the same for Naythan Kenney,

Matt Stavron and Joseph Gomez.

All four were patients of a Rowland Heights

physician who was a prolific prescriber of narcotic painkillers and other addictive drugs. To get their fix, they needed more than a piece of paper.

They needed a pharmacist willing to dispense the drugs, and at Pacifica they found one.

All four died of drug overdoses after filling prescriptions at the tiny pharmacy in Huntington Beach, court and coroners’ records show.

Pacifica’s owner, Thang Q. “Frank” Tran, sold pain medications in large quantities. Particularly popular with his customers were high-dose, 80-milligram tablets of OxyContin. Tran filled nearly twice as many of those prescriptions as did nearby Walgreens, CVS and Sav-On pharmacies combined, according to state records.

Many of his customers traveled long distances and paid cash. Rovero drove more than 350 miles from Arizona State University in Tempe to get his prescriptions in Rowland Heights and then 33 more miles to the pharmacy.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why in the world would these kids go that much farther out of their way?’ ” said April Rovero, whose son was 21 when he died. “Someone must have told them to go there.”

Pharmacists are supposed to be a last line of defense against misuse of prescription medications. By law, they are required to scrutinize prescriptions, size up customers and refuse to dispense a drug when they suspect the patient has no medical need for it.

Some, however, provide massive amounts of painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs to addicts and dealers with no questions asked, according to state records, regulators and law enforcement officials.

Rogue pharmacists are key enablers of drug abuse and an important source of supply for the illegal market.

Continue Reading: