Drugstore heists spur feds’ to help Maine tackle prescription drug abuse

Posted Jan. 26, 2011, at 12:59 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 26, 2011, at 11:19 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Sept. 30 robbery of a Rockland Rite Aid by a machete-wielding man was one of 31 reported break-ins or robberies of pharmacies in Maine over the past two years.

That statistic and the continuing problem of prescription drug abuse in Maine has led to an agreement that will allow federal law enforcement authorities to assist local agencies in such investigations, Maine’s U.S. attorney announced Wednesday.

Pharmacy burglaries and robberies in the state increased from eight in 2009 to 22 in 2010, U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II, a former Superior Court judge, said at a press conference held in his Portland office and made available by video conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Bangor. The first pharmacy robbery of 2011 occurred Friday at a Rite Aid in Sanford, he said.

Because pharmacies are licensed federally to dispense prescription drugs, federal prosecutors and federal drug agents have jurisdiction over crimes involving their theft.

Former Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills asked for federal help last fall from Delahanty, he said. William Schneider, Maine’s new attorney general, supports the effort, according to The Associated Press.

A formal protocol on when and how to seek assistance from federal agencies will be presented next week at the annual convention of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association in South Portland, Delahanty said.

“Maine leads the nation in people seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers,” Delahanty said, referring to a report released in December by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The report showed that since 1998, Mainers have consistently sought treatment for addiction to nonheroin opiates — such as the popular painkiller OxyContin — at rates significantly higher than in other states or in the nation as a whole.

Additionally, more than 90 percent of Maine’s 179 drug overdose deaths in 2009 were linked to prescription drugs, and more than 300 babies were born with drug-related problems, Delahanty said.

“These are staggering numbers, and we just can’t ignore them,” he said.

In the Sept. 30 Rite Aid robbery, Joshua Powell, 23, of Rockland threatened pharmacy staff until they gave him drugs, some of which he consumed before police surrounded him, police said. Most robbers and burglars seeking drugs do so to feed their own addictions, as Powell apparently was, the U.S. attorney said.

Delahanty emphasized that because federal law enforcement authorities have more resources than state and local agencies do, it made sense for everyone to work together. He also said his office’s caseload is lighter than the “overburdened state court system.”

Powell was indicted earlier this month by the Knox County grand jury on charges of robbery, stealing drugs and criminal threatening. He is being held on $100,000 bail at the Knox County Jail. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison on the robbery charge alone.

A list of pharmacy break-ins and robberies in 2009, 2010 and 2011 distributed at the press conference showed that 14 of the 31 incidents were at pharmacies in York County. Four each were in Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, three were in Kennebec County and two were in Hancock County at the same Stonington pharmacy. One each occurred in Franklin, Oxford, Somerset and Knox counties during the two-year period.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Drug disposal day slated for April 30

PORTLAND, Maine — A second National Prescription Drug Take Back Day will be held Saturday, April 30, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced Wednesday.

The event is designed to allow people to safely dispose of unwanted or unused prescription drugs. A similar event was held in September when 7,820 pounds of prescription drugs were turned in at 121 collection sites around the state.

That ranked Maine No. 1 in the collection effort based on population, Michael W. Wardrop, the DEA’s resident agent in charge in Maine, said Wednesday.

The goal for the spring collection is 5 tons, he said.

Collection sites will be posted at www.dea.gov once they have been determined.

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