[Pharmwaste] Washington State pharmacies robbed
Cheri.Grasso at METROKC.GOV
Tue Aug 21 17:16:36 EDT 2007
Thieves, addicts hitting state pharmacies
By LEVI PULKKINEN <mailto:levipulkkinen at seattlepi.com>
Drawn by addiction and the prospect of big money, criminals looking for
powerful prescription painkillers are targeting Western Washington
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Federal authorities in Seattle are pursuing four high-profile drug-store
robbery and burglary prosecutions. Twelve of those indicted have pleaded
guilty to crimes related to the theft and sale of painkillers and other
drugs, and another dozen currently face charges.
While thieves aim for a variety of prescription drugs, pain pills are
among the most sought after, said Ron Friedman, an assistant U.S.
attorney who has led the prosecution in several pharmaceutical theft
"Every drug has its trend, and right now these drugs are popular,"
Friedman said from his Seattle office. "We really want to learn more
about how this stuff is ending up on the streets."
Citing Drug Enforcement Administration statistics, Friedman said
Washington led the nation in pharmacy break-ins in 2005 with 48
burglaries. That compares with three in 2002.
Oxycodone and hydrocodone painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin
currently fetch $20 to $40 per pill on the street, said Dave Rodriguez,
a regional director of an Office of National Drug Control Policy
When paired with an addiction, those high prices are enough to drive
some to steal and sell prescription drugs, Rodriguez said from his
Oddly enough, one of the drugs most sought after by thieves and users --
OxyContin -- was originally marketed to doctors as a less addictive
alternative to other painkillers. Three executives with drug
manufacturer Purdue Frederick Co. Inc. were fined millions in May after
pleading guilty in federal court to misbranding the medicine.
The market for prescription drugs is large, and stable. According to
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates, about 11.3
million Americans misuse prescription painkillers each year -- nearly
twice the number that use cocaine.
Most prescription drugs available illicitly were prescribed legally and
then stolen or sold, Rodriguez said. Other pills are stolen by health
care workers or obtained through fraudulent prescriptions.
Still, Rodriguez said he's seen an increase in the number of pharmacies
being burglarized or robbed.
Friedman said a series of prosecutions this year have dismantled a
sprawling burglary ring that targeted pharmacies in the Northwest states
and Northern California. Since launching the prosecution -- which
Friedman characterized as "midway" complete -- 12 of those charged have
In another instance, seven Southwest Washington residents were charged
earlier this month with distributing prescription drugs. Federal
authorities also charged a total of five people in two, unrelated
robberies of Snohomish County pharmacies in July.
While robberies are more dangerous, burglaries garner more money for
criminals -- sometimes as much as $200,000 in medication, said Richard
Conklin, a captain with the Stamford, Conn., police who directs
RxPATROL, an industry initiative aimed at tracking drug theft from.
"This is going to be the trend," he said. "It's gaining in speed and
force, and it's not going away."
Tighter border security has already pinched the supply of drugs
transported into the United States, causing cocaine shortages in some
areas for the first time in recent memory, Conklin said. That means many
people will look to prescription drugs to fill the gap.
Conklin said most drug thieves don't stop until they're caught.
"Usually they're addicted to one of these substances," he said, "And
they're going to continue until they're captured."
P-I reporter Levi Pulkkinen can be reached at 206-448-8348 or
levipulkkinen at seattlepi.com <mailto:levipulkkinen at seattlepi.com> .
Please note new e-mail address is cheri.grasso at kingcounty.gov
Cheri Grasso, Health and Environmental Investigator
Local Hazardous Waste Management Program
130 Nickerson Street, Suite 100 Seattle, WA 98109
206-263-3089 cheri.grasso at kingcounty.gov
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