Suffolk County executive announces initiative to fight pill abuse

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at a press conference today announcing the county iniative against prescription pill abuse.

Following two fatal Long Island pharmacy shootings in the past year, Suffolk County officials announced this morning that they have launched a three-pronged campaign against what has been called a prescription drug epidemic in the U.S.

The approach will include spreading awareness of an initiative to collect old and expired medications, known as Project Medicine Cabinet, and tripling the Crime Stoppers reward for information leading to arrests in pharmacy robberies from $1,500 to $5,000, County Executive Steve Bellone said today at a press conference at Suffolk County Police headquarters in Yaphank.

County law enforcement officials have also formed a partnership with a Connecticut pharmaceutical company to better educate and protect pharmacists and law enforcement officers from pharmaceutical robberies, Mr. Bellone said.

“Today’s announcement is an important step for us in dealing with this crisis,” he said. “But it is just one step.”

The Stamford-based Purdue Pharma is an industry leader in pain management, according to its website, and was represented at Monday’s press conference by its vice president and chief security officer, Mark Geraci.

The company’s law enforcement liaison and education unit, which is staffed with retired narcotics officers from across the country, trains and educates law enforcement officers in drug abuse issues. It has trained 40,000 health care practitioners and 180,000 law enforcement officers nationwide, Mr. Geraci said.

He announced a new training program specifically tailored to the pharmacy community, which will be implemented in Suffolk County Feb. 9.

The program will be geared toward helping pharmacists recognize fraudulent prescriptions, as well as protecting themselves and customers by making their buildings more secure

One county pharmacy owner was on hand Monday to welcome the attention the county police department is paying to the issue.

“It’s quite evident that we are in an environment now which any day could be a dangerous one,” said Joanne Hoffman Beechko, the owner of a Huntington pharmacy and president of the Long Island Pharmacists Society. “We are all individually addressing this as we need to address it.”

Acting Police Commissioner Edward Webber touted the successes of Operation Medicine Cabinet, which he said has collected 4,000 pounds of unwanted or expired medication since June 2010.

“We are one of the first agencies in New York State to offer this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in all of our precincts,” he said.

He added that all medications are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

Commissioner Webber said the National Drug Control Policy identified prescription drugs as “the nation’s fastest growing drug problem” and prescription painkillers as being “more heavily abused than any other drug other than marijuana.”

The effort comes on the heels of two recent Long Island pharmacy shootings and the announcement that a drug 10 times as powerful as Vicodin could soon hit the market.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent John Capano was shot and killed New Year’s Eve by friendly fire while he, an off-duty New York Police officer and a retired Nassau County Police officer were attempting to stop a robbery at Charlie’s Family Pharmacy in Seaford.

In June, David Laffer, 33, was arrested for the slaying of four in a Medford pharmacy. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

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