(WBNG Binghamton) Wednesday, New York Senator Charles Schumer announced that his plan to crack down on prescription drug theft, the SAFE DOSES Act, has passed Congress and awaits President Obama’s signature, which will help New York law enforcement better combat an unprecedented spike in drug abuse throughout the state.
According to a news release from Schumer's office:
Schumer noted that in 2011, the Upstate New York Poison Control Center reports that there have been over 12,800 cases of prescription drug abuse total in New York. In addition, Schumer noted that this abuse has fueled dozens of pharmacy robberies across the state, which have led to serious consequences, including death. The SAFE DOSES Act, which passed the Senate late last week, aims to combat theft at every point of the supply chain, from the drug warehouse to the delivery truck to the pharmacy, by increasing penalties and giving law enforcement wiretaps access, among other tools to combat dangerous drug rings.
“This plan will help keep drug thieves off the streets and law enforcement better equipped to combat prescription drug theft in our upstate New York communities, and I am thrilled it is now headed to the President’s desk for his signature,” said Schumer. “The SAFE DOSES Act will help cops put a lid on the prescription drug epidemic that is spilling across New York State as well as the entire country, and will also ensure that powerful prescriptions, like Oxycontin and hydrocodone, make it from the factory to the patient, and nowhere else. Pharmacy robberies have put our communities in danger and have turned deadly in the last year – and today the federal government can respond by providing our heroes in blue the tools to fight back.”
While it is impossible to know exactly how many prescriptions are written for legitimate medical illnesses, doctors and counselors agree that the number of prescriptions filled far outruns the number of legitimate prescriptions. Prescription drug abuses cases were found in every part of the state last year – here is how they break down, as reported to the Upstate Poison Control Center:
• In the Capital Region, there were 1,452 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
• In Central New York, there were 3,103 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
• In the Rochester Finger Lakes Region, there were 2,063 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
• In the Hudson Valley, there were 1,428 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
• In Western New York, there were 2,324 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
• In the Southern Tier, there were 1,431 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
• In the North Country, there were 1,070 reported cases of prescription drug abuse in 2011
Specifically, Schumer’s plan that has now passed Congress will direct increases in sentences for robbing pharmacies of controlled substances, and create a new crime specifically for the theft of medical products, the fencing of medical products, and the transportation and storage of stolen medical products. Sentences that are specific to stolen medical products would apply to each current section of federal law that could be used by prosecutors to charge such crimes, and the bill directs the sentencing commission to adjust sentencing guidelines to reflect the seriousness of these offenses. The legislation enhances sentences when harm occurs or trust is broken – in other words, where the defendant is employed by an organization in the supply chain or where there was a death as the result of ingestion of a stolen substance. Finally, Schumer’s plan allows for civil penalties and forfeiture of ill-gotten gains derived from medical product theft. The legislation will now head to the President’s desk for his signature, which is expected in coming days.
The heavy demand for prescription drugs is often fed by pharmaceutical theft, which, whether it takes the form of robbery of pharmacies, hijacking of pharmaceutical delivery trucks or other forms of theft, is a growing concern for law enforcement officials nationwide. According to the U.S. Division of Freightwatch International, $184 million worth of prescription drugs were stolen in the U.S. in 2009, a 350 percent increase from 2007. The same company reports there were a total of 129 pharmaceutical cargo thefts between 2006-2011. In addition, according to the DEA, armed robberies at pharmacies rose 81 percent between 2006 and 2010, from 380 to 686. During the same period, the number of pills stolen went from 706,000 to 1.3 million. The crime wave has overwhelmed local law enforcement and drawn the attention of the federal authorities, but federal penalties for pharmacy theft are lenient and do not provide federal law enforcement with all the tools they need.
Pharmaceutical theft not only leads to more addictive and illegal pain killers on our streets, it also puts in jeopardy the health of a patient who unwittingly uses these drugs after they end up on the black market or find their way back into pharmacies or hospitals. Stolen prescription drugs may end up in the hands of counterfeiters who can re-label or replace their contents with other ingredients, and stolen infant formula that ends up on the black market can also endanger the health and well-being of newborns.
While cities and states can monitor and arrest local drug trafficking rings like the ring that was busted in early 2011 on Staten Island, they often lack the resources to dismantle rings that operate across state lines. Schumer’s legislation would increase the federals authorities’ ability to crack down on interstate drug rings by combating theft along every point of the supply chain, from the warehouse to the delivery truck to the pharmacy.
The SAFE DOSES Act is one of many Schumer efforts to combat pharmaceutical theft and prescription narcotics addiction in New York and the country. Schumer is co-sponsoring legislation, with Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), that would require medical professionals to participate in specialized training to prescribe drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and other opiate-based narcotics. The plan would first work to prevent addiction to these dangerous drugs by addressing the overprescribing of highly addictive narcotics by local doctors. The training would help doctors better identify patients vulnerable to addiction and lay out options for pain management without the use of opiate narcotics. That would in turn reduce the number of inappropriate prescriptions and start to tackle the problem of overuse of pain medication.