Permanent Pharmacist  In the wake of the tragic Medford pharmacy murders, a local pharmacist leads an effort to restrict MDs, druggists who can deal with widely abused drugs.

The recent tragic murders at a pharmacy in Medford, in which four persons were allegedly killed by a person addicted to pain medications, is just the latest episode in a trend that most recently includes a CVS robbery in Farmingville and recent Shop Rite pharmacy drug theft in Commack and that has pharmacists in the region reassessing the way their businesses operate.

But while there’s a general understanding that the problem of prescription drug abuse has been a growing concern, one local area pharmacist is hoping the tragedy may galvanize the health care industry to finally meet the problem head on.

“Four innocent lives were taken,” Howard Levine of Belmont Drugs and Surgical, located at 626 East Sunrise Highway, just over the Lindy border in West Babylon. “It’s our job to keep this from happening to anyone else.”

While other pharmacists in the Lindenhurst area were reluctant to talk about prescription drug abuse and the dangers it presents to pharmacies, Levine, who as executive director of the Long Island Pharmacists Society, has his pulse on the mood of private pharmacies from Montauk to the Queens County line, and has been outspoken on the issue.

An increasing number of his colleagues have decided stop carrying oxycodone and other ovoid substances that might be a temptation to prescription medication addicts. In fact, he’s one of them.

“I no longer carry these products,” Levine declared. “I was robbed at gunpoint twice within a six-month period – once on the day before Thanksgiving, and the other time on January 7. I’ve been here 31 years, and it’s as bad as I can remember.”

In each case, he noted, it was the same individual who was later picked up in a Pennsylvania hospital after a drug overdose.

And while the first time Levine’s pharmacy was robbed “the gunman was reasonably professional, the second time he was more violent – he tied up two of my employees,” he said.

Experiences like Levine’s are well known to officials from the local community to Washington, DC. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that among teenagers, prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports an alarming number of adults abusing prescription drugs.

However, experts are not in full agreement as to where to focus on solutions.

The New York Society of Addiction Medicine has recommended increasing the number of addiction medicine specialists in the state, and strengthening reimbursement rates for addiction treatment products such as buprenorphine.

A bill before the New York State legislature targets giving pharmacists better access to existing databases on prescription drug users.

Levine said that tweaking existing databases may be a good idea, but he and his organization are contemplating their own three-pronged proposal.

“First we think that doctors’ ability to prescribe these products should be restricted to those who have taken required pain management courses,” he said. “Many general practitioners would welcome that; they could then legitimately say they aren’t able to prescribe.”

Second, said Levine, is to hand out smaller quantities for one-time prescriptions, so leftover pills aren’t in homes providing temptation to family members, friends or anyone else exposed to them.

“We’re also thinking about the idea of restricting pharmacies that stock these items to those businesses that have proper security and credentialing,” he noted.

The bottom line, noted Levine, is better policing by the healthcare industry itself.

“Addicts aren’t born, they’re made,” he declared. “As a nation, we’re overprescribing and overmedicating. We’re creating a society of addicts.”

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