Monday, February 7, 2011

The OxyContin problem for rural pharmacies

The New York Times reports today in a front page story that many pharmacies--especially in rural areas, it seems--have stopped selling OxyContin, Vicodin, and other drugs that have increasingly made pharmacists of robberies by addicts. The dateline is Bingham, Maine, population 930, in nonmetropolitan Somerset County, population 50,947, in the north central part of the state. The story reports on a "rash of armed robberies at Maine drugstores last year, a sharp increase that has rattled pharmacists and put the police on high alert." The thieves, it seems, are looking for oxycodone (the main ingredient in OxyContin), hydrocodone (the main ingredient in Vicodin) and Xanax. Some 1800 such robberies have occurred nationwide over the past three years. As a result, some pharmacists, such as Chet Hibbard in Bingham, have stopped carrying OxyContin--and posted signs to that effect. Hibbard ceased to "dispens[e] the highly addictive painkiller last July, after two robbers in ski goggles demanded it at knifepoint one afternoon as shocked customers looked on." Hibbard is quoted: “Outside hiring an armed guard to be in here 24/7, I don’t know what else to do.”

The story recounts some other brazen robberies, some in metropolitan areas:
In Rockland, Me., one wielded a machete as he leapt over a pharmacy counter to snatch the painkiller oxycodone, gulping some before he fled. In Satellite Beach, Fla., a robber threatened a pharmacist with a cordless drill last week, and in North Highlands, Calif., a holdup last summer led to a shootout that left a pharmacy worker dead.
Here's a link to a story about a pharmacy burglary in my home county. Here is a 2001 story about Oxycontin addiction, also linking it to rural areas.

Here's another recent story about a "bath-salts" type substance sold in convenience stores and gas stations, which has apparently caused very erratic behavior in those using the cocaine-like substance. Florida and Louisiana have recently banned the sales of these products.


Jen Wickens said...

The recent pharmacy burglaries for painkillers bring to mind the theft of over-the-counter drugs used to make methamphetamines.

Of course, prohibiting the sale of these drugs as a means of curbing the drug epidemic and drug-related crime overlooks the fact that rural people must forego those legal substances as a result. I wonder who is analyzing the costs and benefits before outlawing the sale of common substances available throughout much of the country. Are there alternative means of achieving the same ends? Perhaps better police work? Local substance abuse prevention programs akin to D.A.R.E? Substance abuse treatment programs like N.A.?

Too often, our country's approach to drug culture is to prohibit substances rather than getting at the reason people are using or selling drugs in the first place. Simply making it more difficult for people to get one type of drug will only make them find a new drug if what they seek to do is get high or make a quick, easy buck.

vlshaw said...

Oxycotin is the number one drug being abused on my Tribe's reservation, it is a huge problem. I am certain that this may be true of many other reservations too. Maybe its because the reservation is so isolated that traditional prolem drugs like heroin, crystal meth, and cocaine are far harder to obtain than prescription drugs.