NY Senator Schumer Calls For New Approach To Protect Pharmacies

In wake of a deadly drug store robbery on Long Island, N.Y., United States Senator Charles E. Schumer called for a new, three-pronged approach to protecting local drug stores from the growing problem of pharmacy theft, due to the increased use of illegally obtained prescription pain killers like Oxycontin. Standing at the Nassau County Police Intelligence Center, Schumer called for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to provide guidelines and best practices to help local pharmacies establish better security measures for the protection of prescription narcotics and to share data collected on pharmaceutical and prescription drug theft with local law enforcement. Schumer also pressed for passage of his bill that would increase maximum sentences for pharmacy-related crimes to 20 years per offense. Schumer’s effort comes in the wake of the latest deadly pharmacy robbery this past week and in the face of the quadruple homicide that occurred at a Medford, N.Y., pharmacy robbery last year.

“We must declare war on prescription drug abuse and its related crime,” Schumer said. “Prescription drug-related crimes are becoming deadlier by the day and we must do everything in our power to stop them. By providing guidance on how to increase security measures at local drug stores, sharing information on crime trends, and increasing penalties for those who would seek to rob a pharmacy, we can help deter would-be criminals from trying in the first place.”

 In a letter to the DEA, Schumer called for the agency to provide guidelines and best practices to local Long Island pharmacies and drug stores to help encourage and create better security strategies as a deterrent to would-be thieves. Schumer noted that bullet proof glass, timed safes, staggering supplies and silent alarms can serve as a deterrent. He pointed out that in Washington State, after time sensitive safes and staggered inventories were introduced at many drug stores, pharmacy robberies dropped in half from 2008 to 2010.

Schumer also called on the DEA to share information the agency catalogues on the theft of controlled substances and other prescription drug related crimes to local law enforcement agencies. In his letter to the DEA, Schumer stated that such access would allow the Nassau-Suffolk High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA) the ability to assist in the creation of a database for local law enforcement to determine trends and patterns of prescription drug related crime in the region. Schumer noted that sharing data on things like missing prescription drug pads, pills, or recent robberies, could allow local law enforcement to identify trends or investigate well-known drug addicts or even help identify locations where overprescribing of pills is occurring. 

Schumer is also pressing for passage of his bill that would direct the United States Sentencing Commission to expand sentencing for pharmacy robberies and increase the penalties for every possible related crime to a maximum of 20 years in prison. According to news reports, police on Sunday identified the suspect in the deadly Seaford pharmacy robbery as a twice-convicted felon, who had robbed at least three pharmacies in 1990 and 2000, in addition to other robberis. The suspect served roughly 20 years total for four robberies he committed in 1990 and 2000 and was released on parole in August after 10 years for the 2000 robberies. Had Schumer’s legislation been on the books when the suspect in the Seaford Pharmacy robbery was convicted in either 1990 or 2000, he would very well likely still be in prison today.

As the numbers show, pharmaceutical drug theft, whether it takes the form of robbery of pharmacies, hijacking of pharmaceutical delivery trucks or other forms of theft, is a growing concern for law enforcement officials nationwide.  According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the amount of Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs) stolen in armed robberies has doubled from more than 500,000 milliliters to nearly 1.1 million in 2007, while the amount lost in transit increased from more than 1.4 million milliliters in 2003 to more than 2.5 million in 2007.  Since 2007 over 1800 pharmacies, nationwide, have been robbed.

 Below is a copy of Schumer’s letter to the DEA.

Dear Director Kerlikowske and Administrator Leonhart,

I am writing today with grave concern about the recent string of pharmacy robberies on Long Island. As you may know, this past weekend an off-duty federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive agent, John Capano, was fatally shot while attempting to intervene in one such robbery. Tragically, this is not the first death related to pharmacy robbery. Just this past June, four people were murdered while a prescription drug addict was robbing a pharmacy in Medford, New York. It is time that the Drug Enforcement Administration and Office of National Drug Control Policy work with local law enforcement to create a strategy to end this horrific string of violence.

Over the past three years, at least 1,800 pharmacy robberies have occurred across the country. However, the guidelines and regulations issued by the DEA to pharmacists do not meet the challenges faced by twenty-first century pharmacies. They do not fully protect pharmacists from the awful violence prescription drug addicts are willing to inflict in order to steal schedule II narcoics and should be updated to reflect this frightening new reality. Therefore, I request that the DEA work with pharmacies to promulgate new guidelines to help encourage and create better security strategies as a deterrent to would-be thieves. Bullet proof glass, timed safes, staggering supplies and silent alarms can serve as deterrents. As evidence that these strategies work, Washington State, after time sensitive safes and staggered inventories were introduced at many drug stores, saw pharmacy robberies drop in half from 2008 to 2010.

I was also very surprised to learn that local and state law enforcement do not currently have access to a comprehensive database that catalogues the theft of controlled substances. It is my understanding that this information must be reported to the DEA but is not easily accessible by other law enforcement. The New York/ New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program seems to be well placed to assist in the creation of such a database for the New York Metropolitan Region. This interagency database would allow law enforcement to track patterns and examine trends throughout the region. This could focus law enforcement's efforts on hot spots where the greatest theft is occurring and could lead to further investigation by the community into the underlying reasons for the prescription drug abuse.

The time for action is now. We must not wait for another father, son, sister or mother to be killed so a junkie can score his next high. Senior Special Agent Capano should be the last New Yorker killed in a pharmacy robbery.

 Thank you for your prompt consideration and attention to this important matter.  I look forward to your response.

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