Legislature seeks Rx to discourage pharmacy robberies

Bill McNary smooths his white coat and steps out from behind the high counter where he presides over medications dispensed at the Maple Leaf Pharmacy in a quiet residential neighborhood of north Seattle. He scans the few customers who are browsing the aisles full of Ace bandages, aspirin and assorted other sundries for life’s aches and pains.These days, even the most benign-looking customer could be a deadly threat. Worried about the kinds of robberies McNary, co-workers, and customers have experienced, pharmacists across Washington are seeking changes in state law.In December, 2009, a young man who McNary said looked “normal enough” strolled into the pharmacy, glanced around, bought a Chapstick, which gave him a view over the counter, and left. When he came back a few hours later, the store was packed with customers waiting for flu shots. He was waving a gun.The man, Jacob Shook, burst behind the counter and overpowered one pharmacy technician, knocking her to ground.Technician Geraldine Crews whipped around, phone in hand, as her co-worker flew to the floor. She saw the glint of a gun barrel and hit the ground herself.“He jerked me up, and slapped me with the gun,” she said. “He got angry. He said, ‘Do you know what Oxy is?’ ” She knew that OxyContin, a powerful pain pill that acts like heroin, sells for upwards of $80 a pill on the street. She also knew that people addicted to it can be desperate.“Here – take it all and go,” she remembers telling him. She was terrified that if she didn’t, he’d turn the gun on customers.“This place was full of people — there was a five- or six-year-old little boy with his parents here,” she said. “I’m sure it gave that little boy nightmares.”

Taping ‘Diagnosing Solutions’

Enrique Cerna moderates a panel on prescription drug abuse in the KCTS-9 studio. Photo credit: Peter Johnson.Experts on prescription drug abuse gathered at KCTS 9’s studios in Seattle today to tape a panel discussion. Over the course of a half hour, the panel discussed the medical and social causes of prescription drug abuse and policies that might make a dent in the addiction epidemic. The discussion will air Monday, January 30 at 9 p.m. on KCTS-9, following the airing of InvestigateWest and KCTS’s jointly-produced “Prescription for Abuse” documentary.The panel included policymakers, law enforcement, medical professionals, and treatment experts, as well as our own Carol Smith, who wrote the two-part investigation on which the documentary is based. The experts agreed that the massive upsurge of prescription drug abuse in recent years is directly related to an upsurge in opioid prescriptions from doctors; in the late 90s, the medical profession concluded that its methodologies for treating both chronic and acute pain were ineffectual and began to prescribe more opioid medications as a result.However, that well-intentioned change in medical practice resulted in disaster for many patients. Some doctors reacted to the new methodology by overprescribing medication for pain patients—a fumble that allowed incredibly powerful narcotics to sneak into American homes.Given that prescription drugs are prescribed by doctors for patients with legitimate pain needs, the profile of a prescription drug addict often doesn’t match that of a street drug user.