Today, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced that his plan to crack down on prescription drug theft, the SAFE DOSES Act, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously, a critical hurdle in combatting an unprecedented spike in drug abuse in New York State. 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 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, placing medical product theft under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, and giving law enforcement wiretaps access and other tools to combat dangerous drug rings.
"This is a huge first step towards curbing the prescription drug epidemic that is sweeping across New York and the entire country," said Schumer. "The SAFE DOSES Act will help ensure that prescription drugs 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 -- we need to give law enforcement the tools to fight back. I hope the full Senate will move quickly to pass this bill so that we can make the fight against prescription drug abuse a fair one."
While it's 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 during 2011
· In Central New York, there were 3,103 reported cases of prescription drug abuse during 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 and legislation that passed the committee today would 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 move to the full Senate floor for a vote.
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, in 2009 $184 million worth of prescription drugs were stolen in the U.S., a 350% 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, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 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.
Pharmacy theft and the illegal distribution of prescription painkillers and other drugs spread throughout Upstate New York over the past year. A woman in Concord, in the Southtowns of Buffalo was arrested with a stash of 1,000 prescription painkillers that she had been dealing to local residents. In the Hudson Valley, a Port Jervis woman was arrested on drug charges after a month long investigation of her residence showed that she had been selling Oxycodone, a prescription pain medication. In 2010, a local man robbed a pharmacy in Port Jervis, and held a pharmacy employee at butcher knife point to get the narcotic OxyContin. Several pharmacy robberies on Long Island turned deadly in 2011, and one took the life of an off duty police officer who courageously attempted to break up the crime.
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. Today, Schumer pledged to continue the fight to combat prescription drug abuse and said he would push for full Senate passage of the legislation this year. He also expects the House of Representatives to consider similar legislation this year as well.
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.