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Suffolk unveils pharmacy safety initiative

Suffolk County Executive, Steve Bellone, embraces Suffolk Police

Suffolk County Executive, Steve Bellone, embraces Suffolk Police chief James Burke, outside Police Headquarters in Yaphank after a press conference concluded. (Jan. 9, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County police have started training officers on how to curb prescription drug abuse and the violence associated with it as part of a three-pronged pharmacy safety initiative that officials announced Monday.

County Executive Steve Bellone said the program, which includes partnering with a pharmaceutical company, aims to stop deadly drugstore violence like the shootings at a Medford pharmacy that left four dead on Father's Day and the fatal shooting on New Year's Eve of ATF agent John Capano, who was trying to stop a robbery at a Seaford pharmacy.

Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma LP initially trained about 60 Suffolk narcotics officers last week, Bellone said at a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank, and training has been extended to the entire police department.

"This is a major problem for our region and for our state, and I would say even for our country, and it's going to require a comprehensive approach," said Bellone, who called prescription drug abuse an "epidemic."

"This is a first step," he said.

Suffolk police would not provide details of officers' training.

Bellone was flanked at the conference by Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber, Chief of Department James Burke, county Crime Stoppers president Nick Amarr, Purdue Pharma vice president and chief security officer Mark Geraci and Long Island Pharmacists Society president Joanne Hoffman Beechko.

Part of the initiative will include training pharmacists on ways to detect so-called doctor shopping and how to spot fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers. That program is expected to launch on Feb. 9, Bellone said.

In addition, Purdue Pharma, the company that began manufacturing OxyContin in 1996, will help more than triple the Crime Stoppers award to $5,000 from $1,500 for information that leads to the arrest of individuals involved in pharmacy robberies.

The plan also calls for expanding awareness of Operation Medicine Cabinet, in which people can safely dispose of unwanted or expired medications at seven precincts. That program has been in effect since August 2010 and has so far collected 4,000 pounds of unwanted, unused and expired medicine, Webber said.

For many years, said Bellone, law enforcement has focused on drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin, but not on prescription drugs because they are legal.

"We now understand today that the gateway to addiction is the medicine cabinet," he said.

Hoffman Beechko, the owner of Rx Express in East Northport, said pharmacies are dealing with this increasing crisis individually by either installing panic buttons, applying for gun permits, or installing security cameras.

"The community at large is concerned," she said.

With Patricia Kitchen

Heading off deadly pharmacy robberies

Suffolk's pharmacy safety initiative would:

Establish a public/private partnership with Purdue Pharma LP to conduct training and educational programs for police and pharmacists.

Boost the Crime Stoppers award to $5,000 from $1,500 for information leading to the arrest of individuals involved in pharmacy robberies.

Expand awareness of Operation Medicine Cabinet, in existence since August 2010. It allows residents to drop off unwanted, unused or expired medications at each of the county's seven precincts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.