Cracking Down On Prescription Drug Theft

April 11, 2011 Updated Apr 11, 2011 at 9:45 PM EDT

By WKBW News


Cracking Down On Prescription Drug Theft

April 11, 2011 Updated Apr 11, 2011 at 9:45 PM EDT

( release ) Theft of Prescription Drugs Across New York Endangers Patients Who Unknowingly Use Black Market Medication In Hospitals And Doctors Offices – Puts Illegal Drugs In Western New York Schools And On The Streets

With Theft Of Prescription Drugs Up Nationwide, And Nearly 500 Abuse Cases Expected In Erie County This Year, Schumer Announces New Plan To Combat Pharma-Theft At Every Part Of Supply Chain

Schumer: We Need To Toughen Sentences For Rx Theft And Give Law Enforcement The Tools They Need To Fight Back Against Drug Rings

Today, at Tile Pharmacy in Cheektowaga, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced his plan to crack down on prescription drug theft that is fueling an unprecedented spike in drug abuse in Buffalo and Western NY. In just the first three months of 2011, the Upstate New York Poison Control Center reports that there have been 121 cases of prescription drug abuse in Erie County alone. If the current and disturbing trend continues through 2011, this will result in over 480 prescription drug abuse cases for the year. Just days after the arraignment of a woman from Concord, in the Southtowns, who was arrested with a stash of over 1,000 illegal pills that she was selling from her home, and following several reports of prescription drug robberies in Upstate New York, Schumer presented his detailed plan, including new legislation, to fight drug theft. The plan aims to combat theft at every point of the supply chain, from the drug warehouse to the delivery truck to the pharmacy, by increasing penalties, placing medical product theft under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, and giving law enforcement wiretap access and other tools to combat dangerous drug rings.

Schumer was joined by Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita, III, Retired School Administrator Susan Nablo, Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Mary Holtz, Cheektowaga Chief of Police David Zack, Cheektowaga Police Captain Michael Sliwinski, Executive Director of Kids Escaping Drugs JoAnne Hudecki, and Tile Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Joe Rutowski as he announced the new legislation.

“There has been a disturbing level of prescription drug abuse in Western New York, and the recent arrest of the individual from the Southtowns is yet another example of the prescription drug epidemic that is sweeping the country, leaving crime and tragedy in its wake,” said Schumer. “All too often, drugs that end up on our streets are either stolen or obtained by doctor shopping, creating a robust supply chain that puts more and more prescription drugs in our neighborhoods, our schools, and on our streets. My plan provides enhanced sentencing and additional tools for law enforcement to crackdown on criminals peddling prescription drugs, and deters others from following suit. With recent incidents of pharmacy theft beginning to show up in Western New York, we need to use every tool in our arsenal to keep prescription drugs out of the hands of dealers and away from our kids.”

Buffalo and Western New York are feeling the effects of a prescription drug abuse epidemic sweeping the country. In just the first three months of this year, there have been 121 cases of prescription drug abuse in Erie County, including suicide attempts, misuse and intentional abuse. During 2010, in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming counties, there were a combined 1,774 cases of prescription drug abuse. In addition to the growing rate of prescription drug abuse fueled by thefts across the country, Western NY is beginning to see instances of prescription drug theft and resulting drug rings as well. On New Year’s Eve of last year, the Clinton Pharmacy in Buffalo was robbed when an individual aggressively threatened employees, hopped over the counter into the medical storage area, and ran out with over 1,300 oxycodone pills, valued at nearly $40,000. Just last week, a mother of four from Concord was arrested for running a prescription drug dealing operation out of her home – 1,000 pills were seized as part of the raid. Law enforcement estimates that this individual was selling approximately 1,000 illegal prescription drug pills per month.

While it’s impossible to know exactly how many prescriptions are written for legitimate medical illnesses, doctors and counselors agree that the number of prescriptions filled far outruns the number of legitimate prescriptions. A study completed by the University of Buffalo found that of 75 individuals addicted to pain killers, 41% began their addiction on a legally prescribed dose, but most individuals ended up purchasing drugs through the black market later during their addiction. Prescription drug addiction is often deadly – according to the Buffalo News, “nationally, accidental drug deaths involving prescription opioids more than tripled from 4,000 in 1999 to 13,800 in 2006. There were 113 drug deaths in the Buffalo Niagara region in 2008, with 84 involving opioids. The previous year, there were 88 deaths, 70 involving opioids, according to the most recent data available from the National Drug Abuse Warning Network.” Senator Schumer is pushing his legislation in order to cut down on black market drug activity that is ruining and taking lives across Western New York.

Specifically, Schumer’s plan and legislation would increase sentences for robbing pharmacies of controlled substances, and increase sentences for the theft of medical products and the transportation and storage of stolen medical products, and it would apply that increase to each current section of federal law that could be used by prosecutors to charge such crimes. Schumer’s efforts also enhance penalties for stolen medical product “fences,” including individuals and organizations who knowingly obtain stolen products for resale into the supply chain. The legislation increases sentences when harm occurs or trust is broken – in other words, where the defendant is employed by an organization in the supply chain or where there was a death as the result of ingestion of a stolen substance. Finally, Schumer’s plan allows for civil penalties and forfeiture of ill-gotten gains derived from medical product theft.

The heavy demand for prescription drugs is often fed by pharmaceutical theft, which, 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 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. According to the U.S. Division of Freightwatch International, last year $184 million worth of prescription drugs were stolen in the U.S., a 350% increase from 2007. Finally, since 2007 over 1800 pharmacies have been robbed. The crime wave has overwhelmed local law enforcement and drawn the attention of the federal authorities, but federal penalties for pharmacy theft are lenient and do not provide federal law enforcement with all the tools they need.

Pharmaceutical theft not only leads to more addictive and illegal pain killers on our streets, it also puts in jeopardy the health of a patient who unwittingly uses these drugs after they end up on the black market or find their way back into pharmacies or hospitals. Stolen prescription drugs may end up in the hands of counterfeiters who can re-label or replace their contents with other ingredients, and stolen infant formula that ends up on the black market can also endanger the health and well-being of newborns.

While cities and states can monitor and arrest local drug trafficking rings like the one recently busted on Staten Island, they often lack the resources to dismantle rings that operate across state lines. Schumer’s legislation would increase the federals authorities’ ability to crack down on interstate drug rings by combating theft along every point of the supply chain, from the warehouse to the delivery truck to the pharmacy.