Tougher prison sentences and tighter security are needed to protect drugstores from the problem of prescription drug theft, Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined an approach to combat the robberies in a news conference in Massapequa Park with police officials and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

On New Year's Eve a federal ATF agent died trying to foil a pharmacy holdup in Seaford. Sources say the preliminary investigation has shown the agent, John Capano, 51, of Massapequa, was shot in a moment of confusion by a retired Nassau police officer as the agent tried to subdue the robber, who had stolen prescription drugs.

Investigators expect the preliminary inquiry into Capano's death to wrap up by the end of the week, according to a source. The accused thief, James McGoey, 43, of Hampton Bays, was shot dead by an off-duty NYPD officer, according to sources.

"That tragic death of ATF officer Capano brings us together to renew our efforts to combat prescription drug misuse and abuse," Mangano said.

Schumer said he has introduced legislation that calls for revising recommendations that guide federal sentencing, with the aim of moving closer to the 20-year maximum for pharmacy-related crimes.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Schumer called the addiction to prescription painkillers insidious. "It's eating into our society," he said.

In June, David Laffer killed four people as he robbed a Medford pharmacy for prescription painkillers. He was sentenced in November to multiple, consecutive life sentences for murder.

Schumer called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to help pharmacies establish stricter security measures, and to share data on pharmaceutical theft and crime with local law enforcement to help analyze trends and patterns.

DEA spokeswoman Special Agent Erin Mulvey says the agency already shares the information with local agencies through a task force.

Wilbert Plummer, acting special agent in charge of the DEA's New York field division, says the DEA has held sessions for pharmacies on deterring robberies and handling robbers.

"We work hand-in-hand together," he said.