Drug Chains Fire Back at Oxy-Seeking Attackers

By Will Godfrey and Dirk Hanson 05/31/11

Oxycontin hold-ups are so common that CVS and Walgreens are using gun-toting guards and time-lock safes to ward off marauding gangs..

Drug stores armor up.
Photo via broke207

Exploding abuse of potent prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin have turned America’s leading drug store chains into front-line targets for desperate addicts in search of a fix. As a spokesman for C.V.S. told The Fix, this is an issue "that all drug stores have been challenged by for many years." But in the past few months, the frequency of such attacks has increased nationwide, as knife- and gun-wielding criminals make off with millions of pills.

One notable case, reported in the Daily Local News, is that of two brothers from Bear, Delaware—Stephen and William Satterfield—who embarked on a pill-pilfering spree of five pharmacy robberies across Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They worked as a "tag team," taking turns playing gunman and getaway driver. Finally captured after multiple successful hit-ups, Stephen, 29, was sentenced to 14 years in prison by a Pennsylvania court, while William, 33, currently awaits his penalties. At their trial, a pharmacist at a C.V.S. store hit in New Garden, Pennsylvania, described how one of the pair walked up to the counter and handed over a note demanding all the Oxycontin pills in the pharmacy—while revealing a handgun tucked into his waistband.

Emboldened by the success of their freelance colleagues, ambitious drug dealers are joining the fray: “Word travels fast on the street about what an easy target the pharmacies are and how much profit can be made and what small punishment is attached,” a D.A. in Washington State told the New York Times.

To counter the attacks, big-time drug store chains are tripling up on security.  "We have invested tens of millions of dollars in security technology over the last year," said a Walgreens rep in response to inquiries by The Fix. Walgreens in Washington state are currently installing new safes with special time-delayed locks to protect supplies of Oxycontin. "Since these safes were activated," the spokesman told us, "there has been a dramatic reduction in pharmacy crime." They're taking other measures too—albeit after the event: "We're increasing the number of digital indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras from 7 to 16 per store at "sensitive" locations." Some stores have even added gun-toting guards, while a few have adopted a mail-delivery-only policy.

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