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Rx Alert! Who Needs a Prescription? Increasing Number of Pharmacy Drug Thefts.

The high cost of pharmaceutical drugs has been a growing concern, pushing the calls for health care reform. Some people, including a growing number of elderly Americans, are having to decide between taking the drugs prescribed to them, or skipping doses to save money. Others are looking across the borders, to get lower priced medications in Canada or Mexico. However, some drugs are especially in demand, and even those without a prescription are finding ways to access these expensive meds. Over the past couple of years, there have been a surprising number of thefts from pharmacies across the country.

Last year, an Ashburnham couple apparently visited their local Family Pharmacy on Main Street, carrying not a prescription from their doctor, but rather a gun. The man took what was described as "a small amount of cash, and a large amount of prescription medication." Surveillance video identified the getaway driver as a woman in a red sedan. Ashburnham Police used the footage to cross reference social media accounts and Department of Corrections records to identify the suspects. The couple was later picked up by police in Maryland, and arrested on suspicion of the robbery.

Worcester police sought a man who allegedly robbed a local CVS pharmacy at gunpoint. The thief handed the clerk a note which spelled out specific mediations he wanted, and as proof of his intentions, he took a gun from his waistband. Not content to wait while the drugs were packaged up, he hopped over the counter, and forced the pharmacist to give him a bag full of the medications.

However, it is not only thieves who are taking prescription drugs by force, some are pilfering the pills much more surreptitiously. A former CVS pharmacy technician has been charged withstealing prescription painkillers for a friend. Kesha Germaine, of Springfield, has pleaded innocent to the charges. However, she apparently admitted to the police that she stole more than 1,000 doses over 5 months last year, sneaking the pills into her pockets. Germaine now claims that she was the victim of extortion, after a customer threatened her family if she did steal drugs for him.

Many prescription pain killers simply go missing, without authorities knowing where they went. Oxycodone, an addictive painkiller, tops the list of missing drugs. According to Massachusetts state police Sgt. David McQueeney, it's safe to say oxycodone is still the No. 1 drug that's stolen. It's something that's sought-after on the street among drug-dependent people." Over a 15-month period last year, the state Board of Registration in Pharmacy had 349 missing narcotic drug reports. Those include 41 incidents of armed robbery, while employee theft accounted for approximately 10% of the missing drugs, leaving the rest of the missing drugs caused by "unknown."

Of course, this problem is not just limited to Massachusetts. Across the country, and even the world, law enforcement is encountering similar situations. A Walgreens pharmacy employee in Florida was arrested after she allegedly stole more than 3,000 hydrocodone pills. Surveillance video showed the employee entering the store prior to opening hours, and leaving with the pills. It is even an issue on the other side of the planet, where in New Zealand, a pharmacist was recently busted for taking a handful of pills for his own purposes, including hay fever, anxiety, sleeping and erectile dysfunction medications.

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