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Crackdown on Florida pain clinics stirs concern about increase in pharmacy robberies

Owner Dan Fucarino has put a sign on the door of Carrollwood Pharmacy that reads, “We do not carry oxycodone.’’

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Owner Dan Fucarino has put a sign on the door of Carrollwood Pharmacy that reads, “We do not carry oxycodone.’’

A 23-year-old man pushing a toddler in a stroller threatened to shoot the pharmacist as he robbed a St. Petersburg CVS.

Another man stabbed a Tarpon Springs pharmacy clerk in the neck, demanding pain pills.

And in a recent Long Island case, a man shot and killed four pharmacy employees in a painkiller holdup.

Long considered a safe and sterile environment, pharmacies have become increasingly frequent targets among the growing number of painkiller abusers. As Florida begins cracking down on pill mills, doctor shopping and prescription fraud, many fear pharmacy robberies will increase.

"When those people can't get those drugs through the old methods," said Carrollwood Pharmacy owner Dan Fucarino, "they're going to turn to other means to get them."

Those worries are echoed by law enforcement officials, who believe a crackdown on prescription drug fraud is necessary but know desperate addicts too easily turn to violent crime. Local law enforcement statistics don't distinguish pharmacy robberies from other commercial or business robberies, although an increase in drugstore crimes appears likely.

"I've heard it stressed by a lot of peers, the fear that once availability of the drugs lessens, people will absolutely take more drastic measures," said Hillsborough County sheriff's Capt. Alan Hill. "We have to be more prepared for that."

Hill said more pharmacies are employing the same precautions banks have taken to deter robberies. Recording equipment and plexiglass-shielded counters are becoming the norm.

Budding pharmacists are taught in school to look for signs of pain pill abuse. They know they deal with a lot more criminals than pharmacists 10 or 20 years ago.

"It definitely is addressed more than it used to be," said 29-year-old Vanita Spagnolo, a second-year University of Florida College of Pharmacy student who works in retail and hospital pharmacies.

The constant eye on crime has tarnished some of her motivation for becoming a pharmacist in the first place, she said.

"It's really frustrating," Spagnolo said. "I went into pharmacy because I wanted to help people. But because it's such a detective game, it kind of takes away from that ability to help those in legitimate pain."

Some pharmacists have been accused of feeding the problem, letting obvious fraud slip past them for the sake of profit. But those who prefer a safe and law-abiding business must take special measures to send their message.

Fucarino, the Carrollwood pharmacist, takes no chances.

His pharmacy is equipped with cameras and monitor screens and has a sign outside that reads, "We do not carry oxycodone."

"One, it's for the safety of my employees," Ficarino said. "And two, I don't want those … coming into my pharmacy, quite honestly."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Crackdown on Florida pain clinics stirs concern about increase in pharmacy robberies 07/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 10:15pm]
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