Drug Diversion and Abuse: NYC Fights Rx Abuse

Pharmacy TimesFebruary 2013 Autoimmune Disorders
Volume 79
Issue 2

A 2-part initiative to deter painkiller abuse and pharmacy robberies is underway in New York City.

A 2-part initiative to deter painkiller abuse and pharmacy robberies is underway in New York City.

As reported in local news, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to fight prescription drug abuse in the city. He first announced guidelines for the city’s emergency departments (EDs) to limit painkiller prescriptions in an effort to reduce the abuse and diversion of pharmaceuticals. The latest news was a national announcement that New York City pharmacies will hide a GPS tracker inside fake pill bottles.

City officials indicated that the new program is needed due to the increase in prescription drug abuse, which prompted the hideous slaying of 4 people in a Long Island pharmacy in 2011 by a hydrocodone junkie, among other crimes. Also mentioned was a retired NYPD officer who left his job due to an injury requiring pain medication, leading him to become addicted and subsequently rob pharmacies with a firearm.

Reports go on to say that the NYPD is creating a database of the city’s more than 6000 pharmacies so that officers can visit each one and suggest increased security measures, such as enhanced alarms and lighting throughout the store. The stores will be asked to participate in the GPS program, which will hide the device in decoy bottles of oxycodone.

The plan is that when a pharmacy robbery or burglary occurs in New York City, one of the bottles taken by the thieves will be the GPS-laden oxycodone bottle. Once these bottles leave the store, the GPS would be activated, hopefully allowing police to track down the stolen pills. This works much in the way that dye packs do in banks, a technology that has been utilized successfully in that industry for many years to track stolen bills. However, the technique became so publicized that many robbers instruct tellers not to give them the packs of money containing the dye—and threaten them if they do.

Needless to say, I applaud New York City’s push to reduce prescription drug diversion. I have long wanted the NYPD to become aggressively involved in the pill problem, which, by the way, is nothing new for either the country as a whole or the city of New York. New York City, like all cities across the country, has been victimized by addiction and subsequent big profits involving pharmaceuticals. Although the tragic murders in the Long Island pharmacy occurred 18 months ago, other prescription diversion offenses have been ongoing for a decade or two.

Law enforcement has been aware of this GPS tracking technology for some time. It had been in use around the country long before NYC made its media announcement about attaching it to oxycodone bottles. I do question the wisdom of announcing this technique to the public, which of course includes potential robbers.

It’s only a matter of time before robbers will order pharmacists and pharmacy technicians not to give them the bottles that contain the GPS devices. My hope is that this kind of interaction does not lead to violence if a would-be robber senses that the clerk has tried to set him up with 1 of the decoy oxycodone bottles. Was a full-scale media release really necessary to announce a previously covert technique used by law enforcement to protect the public?

After announcing that he was curbing the prescribing of pain relievers in city-run hospital EDs, Mayor Bloomberg pleaded with others in New York City to follow suit. Although many questioned his banning of certain sized soft drink containers, attempting to control the prescribing by legitimate prescribers in EDs seems like a much more dangerous place to go.

I would suggest that instead of sending out press releases and doing radio talk shows, the mayor empower the NYPD to start an aggressive campaign on the abuse and diversion of pharmaceuticals while performing the balancing act that will keep those efforts from negatively impacting legitimate pain patients. Enforcement, coupled with a strong prevention and rehabilitation effort, is what will ultimately reduce this abuse issue—and allow for a much-deserved press release about that reduction.

Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@ choice.net, via the website www.rxdiversion .com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.

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