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Who is tracking pharmacy robberies in NY?

Don Cantalino exhibits his newly installed surveillance cameras

Don Cantalino exhibits his newly installed surveillance cameras inside his pharmacy. The recent pharmacy shootings have also prompted Cantalino to get a Nassau pistol permit. (Jan. 6, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

How many Long Island pharmacies have been robbed in the past several years? How many drugs were taken?

State law requires pharmacies, hospitals, manufacturers and others authorized to handle controlled substances to report any loss of the drugs to the New York State Department of Health. The reports -- Department of Health form 2094 -- include boxes to check to indicate the type of location where the loss happened and the nature of the incident, such as an "armed robbery" or an "in-transit loss." Pharmacies mail or fax these paper forms to the state, or in some cases dictate the information to a department employee.

Despite the collection of these forms, department spokesman Michael Moran said the agency didn't know how many robberies there have been in the past several years on Long Island or statewide.

He said the department doesn't enter the information into a database, and therefore state workers would need to cull through mounds of paper to determine exact numbers.

At Newsday's request, the department did look at 2011 reports and found pharmacies statewide reported five armed robberies last year -- two of which happened in Nassau County. Suffolk pharmacies reported no robberies last year. Moran said there is some concern in the department that pharmacies are underreporting.

Last year, Newsday reported on nine pharmacy robberies on Long Island alone, including the June 19 robbery of a Medford pharmacy by David Laffer during which he killed four people.

"It's something that's being reviewed," Moran said.

The department had earlier rejected a Freedom of Information Law request by Newsday for copies of the original reports. The newspaper had sought the records to analyze locations of thefts and losses, how much has gone missing and if losses are being reported.

In refusing the request, the department said such information could jeopardize law enforcement investigations and might put people at risk.

A Suffolk grand jury began taking testimony Friday on issues related to prescription drugs in the county, including how the state health department manages the information it keeps and the use of a state database on doctor shopping.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration collects similar information as the state and provided statistics on armed robberies from 2006 through 2010. In New York State there were four such robberies in 2006 and 30 in 2010, according to the DEA.

Local law enforcement agencies haven't traditionally tracked pharmacy robberies and instead lumped the crimes in with general robberies. As a result those agencies don't have exact figures, although the Nassau County Police Department should in the future. That department started tracking pharmacy robberies in August.

---- Robert Lewis