Family marks anniversary of Medford pharmacy shooting

A year after the Medford pharmacy murders, a psychiatrist and victims' family members discuss changes to state laws and their lives. Videojournalists: Ed Betz and Chris Ware (June 4 to 11, 2012)

Family and friends of four people shot and killed in a pharmacy robbery in Medford two years ago marked the tragedy Sunday with flowers, cards and prayers.

Four white roses lay on a concrete bench outside Haven Drugs. Each had an envelope attached to it with the first name of a victim: pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach; cashier Jennifer Mejia, 17, of East Patchogue; and customers Jaime Taccetta, 33, of Farmingville and Bryon Sheffield, 71, of Medford.

Their murders on Father's Day 2011 and the accompanying publicity drew attention to prescription-drug abuse and the crime it fosters. Politicians adopted laws tracking and limiting the distribution of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. More money was earmarked for treatment of addicts, and pharmacies improved their security systems.

However, some elected officials and pharmacists said Sunday more needs to be done, citing Friday's robbery and shooting at a Bellmore drugstore.

Outside the Medford pharmacy, around 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Brian Sheffield left a card and bouquet for his slain father, Bryon, before bending over and closing his eyes. The younger Sheffield was accompanied by his wife and 12-year-old son.

"It's still a difficult process," said Brian Sheffield, 50, of Manorville, after embracing his family. "Because every day there is something that reminds me of him . . . even though it's been two years."

His wife, Dyanna, interjected, "It seems like yesterday."

The shooter, David Laffer, 35, is serving life in prison for the murders, and his wife, Melinda Brady, 31, who helped plan the robbery to feed her addiction to painkillers, is serving 25 years. They lived in Medford.

Brian Sheffield said last week's Bellmore pharmacy robbery illustrates the severity of the problem. "It's not going to stop unless the politicians do something," he said. "Hopefully, it's going in the right direction."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has spoken with the Sheffields, said, "We've made some real strides against this epidemic . . . [but] we must keep on working until the problem is solved."

The senator cited increased federal penalties for stealing and trafficking in prescription drugs, and convincing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to delay the introduction of a new generic form of the painkiller oxycodone until anti-abuse safeguards are in place. He's pushing bills for better trained doctors and to make it more difficult to refill some prescriptions.

In Albany, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who both championed last year's I-Stop law creating a real-time prescription database, said prescription drug abuse was far from over.

"What we really need is a federal solution and tighter controls on prescription narcotics and their distribution," Schneiderman said.

Hannon, the influential chairman of the Senate's health committee, noted the I-Stop database will become operational Aug. 27, giving doctors and pharmacists quick access to a patients' prescription history.

Pharmacy lobbyist Craig M. Burridge said there needs to be "a balance" between restrictions on drug distribution and wider availability of rehabilitation programs.

"One of the first things we did after the Haven shootings was to get more money in the state budget for rehabilitation slots," said Burridge.

"I think we are moving in the right direction," he added. "But what will happen if people don't seek help to beat their addiction? What will happen when they can't get their prescription filled?"

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