The CVS pharmacy at 2 E. Jericho Tpke. in Huntington...

The CVS pharmacy at 2 E. Jericho Tpke. in Huntington Station in August 2021.  Credit: Howard Simmons

In a move aimed at preventing robberies and thefts of controlled substance medications, CVS Health announced Tuesday it has installed time-delay safes at 140 pharmacies in Nassau and Suffolk.

The Rhode Island-based company said the new safes have been installed at more than 9,000 CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide, including 569 in New York, completing a chain-wide upgrade it began in 2015 with stores in Indianapolis — a city that, at the time, CVS said, "was experiencing a high volume of pharmacy robberies."

Installations in Indianapolis resulted in a 70% decline in CVS pharmacy robberies there, the company said. Overall, CVS locations with the new safes have had a 50% decline in robberies, it said.

The technology delays the time it takes employees to open a pharmacy safe, which CVS said helps deter robberies and improves safety for pharmacy customers and employees.

In a statement Tuesday, CVS Health Executive Vice President Prem Shah, said the safe installations are part of the company's commitment to "helping prevent the abuse and diversion of prescription medications."

The U.S. Department of Justice Diversion Control Unit said there were 647 armed robberies of controlled substances at chain and retail pharmacies nationwide in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, as well as 807 burglaries of controlled medications.

That year, the overwhelming number of those crimes were in California, which had 210 burglaries and 109 armed robberies, and Texas, which had 144 burglaries and 54 robberies. New York had 16 burglaries and 22 robberies in 2018, the Department of Justice reported.

In Nassau, there were no pharmacy robberies for prescription drugs in 2020, 2021, 2022 and so far in 2023, according to Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun. Suffolk police were not able to supply similar figures. 

 Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said the CVS announcement is significant.

"This is real news because our opioid crisis has not diminished," McCrie said, "and pharmacies are one of the places where pure opioids can be obtained. That translates into roughly 60,000 targets across the United States."

Fatal opioid overdoses continue to be a crisis on Long Island. The state Department of Health said earlier this year there were 232 fatal opioid overdoses in Nassau in 2021 and 86 for the first six months of 2022. A Suffolk legislative report said there were 184 confirmed opioid deaths last year and 423 confirmed opioid deaths in 2021, the report said.

McCrie said time-delay safes were first proposed for pharmacy use "about a decade ago," but said pharmacies and pharmacy chains were slow to embrace upgrades due to cost. Safes can run $1,000 or more per location, he said.

They can also be inconvenient, he added, explaining, "Once a pharmacist or member of the pharmacy staff shuts the safe it can't be reopened for a predetermined amount of time. That causes delays."

Other chains have followed suit, he said. Walgreens, Rite Aid and other chain pharmacies could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. 

McCrie said while the expense has caused "mom and pop" type independent pharmacies to be slow to upgrade safes, he suspects ultimately "they will be forced."

One of the most-horrific crimes in Long Island history involved the Father's Day massacre in which a pharmacist, his assistant and two customers were shot dead during the robbery of 10,000 hydrocodone pills from an independent pharmacy — Haven Drugs in Medford — on June 19, 2011.

Suffolk police arrested David Laffer, then 33, and his wife, Melinda Brady, then 29, charging the Medford couple with the crime. Laffer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence at the Sullivan Correctional Facility. Brady pleaded guilty to robbery and is serving 25 years in prison at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

McCrie acknowledged that the addition of time-delay safes will not be a universal deterrent — saying, "When someone needs an opioid nothing matters else to them." Still, he sees the upgrades as "a real positive" when it comes to fighting controlled substance robberies and thefts.

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