County Aims to Combat Pharmacy Robberies

County Executive Steve Bellone releases three-part plan Monday to make pharmacies safer.

On the heels of a violent and sometimes deadly year at Long Island pharmacies, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday a series of initiatives meant to increase safety and deter robberies at area pharmacies. 

Bellone, joined by police officials, the head of security for a major pharmaceutical company and the president of the Long Island Pharmacists Society, said the initiatives were the first step in combating a "prescription drug epidemic."

The three-pronged approach consists of training police and pharmacy employees, increasing the Crime Stoppers reward (from $1,500 to $5,000) for information leading to the arrest of those involved in pharmacy robberies and raising community awareness of Operation Medicine Cabinet, a program that allows residents to dispose of potentially unsafe medications at any of the county's seven police precincts.

"These drugs need to be taken seriously and they are being taken seriously here in Suffolk County," Bellone said during the press conference at Suffolk County Police headquarters in Yaphank, just a few miles from where four people were during a pharmacy robbery in Medford last summer. 

Bellone, who said he was "stunned" when he learned he needed to be buzzed into a pharmacy to pick up a prescription for his mother during his campaign for county executive, said the police department's attention for a long time had been on traditional drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc...), but that was now changing.

"We now understand today that the gateway to addiction is the medicine cabinet," said Bellone, who later added that the county doesn't currently have enough resources to treat the large number of people addicted to prescription drugs. 

The focus Monday, however, was on how to keep pharmacies safe and secure. The county is teaming with Purdue Pharma L.P.'s Law Enforcement Liason and Education Unit (LELE) to educate police and pharmacy workers.

The LELE has already trained 180,000 law enforcement officers across the country and it also teaches pharmacists on how to recognize fraudulent prescriptions, said Mark Geraci, vice-president and chief security officer with Purdue Pharma, the company which makes the painkiller OxyContin (Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading the public about the drug's risk of addiction and agreed to pay $600 million).

For those on the front lines of the recent wave of pharmacy robberies--the pharmacy workers behind the counter--any steps toward making the job safer is welcome news, said Joanne Hoffman Beechko, president of the Long Island Pharmacists Society.

"It is quite evident that we are in an environment now in which any day could be a dangerous one, said Hoffman Beechko, who owns Rx Express, which recently re-located from East Northport to Dix Hills.

Hoffman Beechko added, however, that many pharmacies have been adding new security measures for years.

"It is anxiety-producing to work, but you can't work in that environment on a daily basis," she said. "If I had to worry every day, I would stop working."

forward thinking January 23, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Vito January 24, 2012 at 01:26 AM
The issue with the $150 isn't the amount, it is that if he is also billing medicaid or medicare, he isn't supposed to also be charging patients. This activity kind of proves his goals were something less than altruistic, but as long as they got the drugs...right?
highhatsize January 24, 2012 at 02:09 AM
to Vito: The allegation that the doctor was fraudulently billing Medicaid or Medicare is nothing more than that, an allegation, unsubstantiated at this time. It is, no doubt, based on the allegation that he was providing narcotics to addicts for recreational use rather than as therapy for pain, another unsubstantiated allegation. If the latter allegation is false, the prior one is as well. Thus, if the doctor can show that the prescriptions that he wrote were for the treatment of medical conditions, all the charges fail, including the subordinate Medicare/Medicaid fraud charges. Considering the lure of the deluxe lifestyle that a medical license guarantees, there aren't many saints who take vows of poverty before entering med school. But the fact that Dr. Li was making a lot of money from his pain medicine practice doesn't mean that he was not behaving with perfect propriety. To the contrary, the fact that he would put himself in the sights of the drug police by establishing a pain medicine practice might indicate an unusual degree of compassion for a doctor. It would be interesting to find out how this case unfolds. I would bet that "Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridge Brennan" offers a deal for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor that includes no consequences for the doctor but reporter Melissa Grace WON'T report that. "No Truth to Drug Mill Charges" doesn't have the right éclat for the Daily News.
highhatsize January 24, 2012 at 02:17 AM
to Vito: Sorry, I misunderstood your post. The doctor isn't being charged with "double-billing" but fraudulent billing. It is perfectly OK for a doctor to bill Medicare as well as the patient. It WOULD be fraudulent for him to bill the patient as well as MedicAID but the article is so sloppily written that it isn't clear if that, specifically, is an allegation.
highhatsize January 24, 2012 at 05:45 AM
to Craig: Serendipitously, the Supreme Court today decided a case involving the right to privacy, the GPS case wherein the cops had attached a gps device to a suspect's car without obtaining a search warrant. The Court decided unanimously that this was Constitutionally impermissible. Interestingly, while in most cases the Supremes make their rulings as narrow as possible, avoiding holdings that have a broad scope unless left with no alternative, four of the Justices herein said that they would have found the police activity unconstitutional as a violation of the right to privacy ALONE, indicating their strong support for that right. (The only prohibited activity that they ALL agreed on was that the cops had trespassed in installing the gps device.) Since they had found the activity unconstitutional based on a much narrower and oft-visited legal theory (trespass), their assertion of the privacy right violation was actually superfluous.


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