A week after the second deadly pharmacy robbery on Long Island in a six-month span, Suffolk County officials and police brass ratcheted up their attack on the prescription-drug abuse epidemic.
The plan includes training police and pharmacy personnel, increasing Crime Stoppers reward for pharmacy crime arrests and raising community awareness of Operation Medicine Cabinet—a program that allows the public to drop off unwanted and expired medications anonymously 24 hours a day.
“For many years our officers have focused on drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin, but not on prescription drugs because they are legal,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told reporters during a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank on Monday morning. “We now recognize that these drugs in their own ways can be just as dangerous as these other drugs.”
A New Year’s Eve robbery at a Seaford pharmacy netted prescription painkillers and cash but left a robber from Hampton Bays and an ATF agent who tried to stop him shot dead. On Father’s Day, David Laffer killed four people in a Medford pharmacy hold up in which he stole 11,000 hydrocodone pills.
Bellone and police brass said 60 officers have been trained so far under a program run by Conn.-based Purdue Pharma to help protect pharmacies against robberies and detect prescription fraud. The training will be extended to all officers and detectives as well as pharmacists.
The Crime Stoppers award for information leading to an arrest in pharmacy robbery cases has also been more than tripled from $1,500 to $5,000, officials said. There were 11 drug-store robberies each in 2009 and 2010, followed by 10 more last year, police said.
Police and county officials will also be working to continue the past success of Operation Medicine Cabinet by working with pharmacists and others to get the word out about it. Since locked drug drop boxes have been set up in each of the department’s eight police precinct stationhouses in August 2010, more than 4,000 lbs. of medication has been collected, police said.
The drop boxes allow parents to rid their medicine cabinets of powerful prescription painkillers such as Vicoden and OxyCodone before their children can steal the widely abused controlled substances. It also is an environmentally safer alternative to flushing such drugs down the toilet, which leaches the chemicals into the water supply.
These are not the only plans in the works. Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed increasing the punishment for those convicted of robbing drug stores.
“Prescription drug abuse is a major problem in Suffolk County, just as it is in the rest of the country,” said Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber. “Prescription drug abuse is a problem that crosses every socioeconomic level and impacts all residents of Suffolk County.”