The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has reported that armed robberies of pharmacies across the nation increased 51% between 2006 and 2010. According to DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne, addiction to prescription drugs like DEA has fueled the surge in drug store crimes. The desire to obtain drugs by people who are addicted and by drug dealers who traffic in black market pharmaceuticals has brought violent crime to the corner drug store. In some cases, pharmacists are arming themselves with guns.
MSNBC reports that pharmacy thieves are overwhelmingly targeting oxycodone painkillers like OxyContin and Roxicodone and hydrocone-based pain pills like Vicodin and Norco. Both oxycodone and hydrocodone are highly addictive.
Although most drug store robbers don’t hurt anyone during the commission of their crime, the risk of violence seems to be increasing. These are some of the more shocking pharmacy crimes of the past few months:
• On Father’s Day, New York resident David Laffer executed four people in a Long Island pharmacy where he had gone in search of drugs for his wife. After taking 10,000 painkillers and other pills at gunpoint, Laffer shot and killed two store employees and two customers ranging in age from 17 to 71. Laffer was sentenced to four consecutive life terms and his wife Melinda Brady was sentence to 25 years for her role in the crime.
• On New Year’s Eve, off-duty federal agent John Capano was picking up a prescription at a Long Island pharmacy when he confronted robber James McGoey. A struggle ensued and both Capano and McGoey were shot and killed by a retired police officer who was responding to the reported robbery.
• In late 2010, two Sacramento female drug store employees were shot when a gun battle erupted between two armed robbers and another store employee who had a semi-automatic handgun. One of the employees died of a gunshot wound to the chest and the other, who was pregnant, survived. Both suspects were later apprehended and await trial.
Across the country, there have been more than 2,800 pharmacy robberies since 2006. Small, independent drug stores are often targeted because they have fewer customers at any one time and a robber can get in and out more quickly. In 2010, almost 700 robberies involved a gun.
The amount of prescription drug abuse in America is staggering. Recent data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that 7 million people in the U.S., or almost 3% of the population, use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. NIDA also reports that 73% of prescription drug abuse is associated with painkillers.
The National Community Pharmacies Association has launched a Protect Your Pharmacies initiative. Drug store owners are encouraged to keep addictive painkillers like OxyContin locked in a safe and to rearrange their store so the store entrance can be viewed from the pharmacy counter. Although the initiative does not recommend that pharmacists arm themselves, many have begun to keep a gun behind the counter. Unfortunately, gun battles in drug stores can result in the death of innocent employees, customers and bystanders.