Saud Ansari has been a pharmacist for about 25 years, owns a pharmacy in Woodmere and deals in giving sick Long Islanders the medicine they need to fight off various illnesses and diseases.
Never did he realize he would be on the “front line” of the war against prescription drug abuse, a term that isn’t usually applied to suburban small business owners, but was repeatedly used during a pharmacy security summit held in Bethpage on Tuesday.
“This has always been a problem,” Ansari said during the three-hour event held at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center. “But I think recently in the last couple of months or years…it has really sky rocketed.”
The problem got even more attention after David Laffer gunned down four people during a Medford Pharmacy robbery last June and another suspect was fatally shot along with an ATF agent who tried to stop him from robbing a Seaford drug store on New Year’s Eve.
In an effort to stem the abuse that leads to such deadly results, local officials, members of law enforcement and industry experts gathered at the summit to put their minds together to discuss the issue that has been termed an “epidemic” in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“We’re bringing together our collective resources here to bring together a program that involves education, awareness and enforcement,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, the first speaker of the morning. “And that’s what it takes in order to stem the tide of the abuse that is occurring in the communities here.”
Mangano was joined by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, and Diego Rodriguez, special agent in-charge of the FBI New York division. Also in attendance was the sister of fallen ATF agent John Capano, who died trying to stop the Seaford drugstore robbery.
“This is not something that can be pushed aside,” said King. “It’s not something that only happens in certain communities, it’s not something that happens to certain people. It happens right here in the safest neighborhoods.”
Rice said one way to get the problem under control is to find the doctors and pharmacists peddling drugs or over-prescribing to customers who don’t need medications.
“We have to rip the veil off the ‘everything is good in the world of prescription drugs’ and recognize that this is a money-making operation,” said Rice, adding that her office is currently investigating who these people are. “Today is a real example of how everyone is in the line of fire.”
Steven Skrynecki, chief of Nassau County police, said the number of pharmaceutical arrests were up last year and there has been a rise in residential burglaries, many of them “driven by opiate addictions.”
He said a lot of younger users are more “comfortable with the pharmaceutical drugs because its made by a licensed pharmacy company that its safer, which is a complete fallacy of course, and these drugs are a lot more easy to obtain.”