By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating reports from over 700 pharmacies that were looted, burglarized, or torched in suspected acts of arson during the recent two-week period of civil unrest across America, the agency told Bronx Justice News.
The majority of DEA Field Division offices have reported pharmacy-related crimes, such as prescription drug thefts, amid the national uprising that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“This two week number represents what DEA would expect to see over a normal six month period,” Michael Miller, a DEA spokesman, told Bronx Justice News in an email Thursday. “For example within the New York Field Division, from April 1 to June 16, 2020, there were 70 reports of break-ins. During the same period last year, there were four reports of break-ins. This is an approximate 1050% increase.”
Asked about an estimate for the number of prescription drugs stolen from U.S. pharmacies, Miller said accurate numbers could be tough to pin down.
“In some instances during this time of civil unrest, pharmacies have been completely destroyed and, therefore, an audit cannot be conducted at this time,” Miller said. “As a result it may be difficult to get an exact number of controlled substances stolen or lost.”
Based on initial reports, the number of looted drugs nationwide has already eclipsed the amount of drugs stolen during the 2015 Baltimore riots, also known as the Baltimore Uprising, during which nearly 315,000 doses were looted from roughly a third of that city’s pharmacies—many of them high-powered opioids.
At least 32 Baltimore businesses – 31 retail pharmacies and one medical office inside a methadone clinic – were targeted by looters during unrest that followed the police killing of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, authorities said.
The unprecedented influx of looted prescription drugs flooded Baltimore’s illicit markets, and were partially blamed by police and federal agents for an ensuing rise in street violence, homicides, and drug overdose deaths.
Several city cops were charged in Gray’s homicide, but their prosecutions ended without a single conviction.
500,000 Doses Missing in L.A. Area
In Southern California alone, at least 177 pharmacies in Los Angeles and Riverside counties were targeted by looters during recent demonstrations and civil unrest, reported CBS Los Angeles.
“It’s a bit scary,” Bill Bodner, Special Agent In Charge at the DEA’s Los Angeles Division, told the network. “So far, I’ll be honest with you, 500,000 doses missing, and that’s with about one-third reporting; 500,000 doses missing of what are some pretty powerful controlled substances.”
Bodner said that amount of prescription drugs hitting street markets could harm efforts to combat America’s opioid crisis.
“It’s horrible that you know a situation like this happens to put more of the drugs out there just when we’ve been kind of getting a handle on at least the prescription part of the issue,” he said.
During the recent unrest, the drugs most commonly stolen from pharmacies include oxycodone, codeine/acetaminophen, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, codeine cough syrup, Xanax, Valium, tramadol, and buprenorphine, according to Miller.
“At this time, these appear to be crimes of opportunity,” the DEA spokesman said of the strikes on pharmacies. “DEA has not seen evidence of a coordinated effort.”
Under federal law, pharmacies are obligated to report theft or loss of controlled substances within 24 hours.
After an initial report, pharmacies are given time to conduct an audit and record the actual numbers of plundered controlled substances—then advise the DEA of their losses, authorities said.
Locally, reports of looting at Bronx pharmacies have also spurred law enforcement investigations.
Anyone with information about looted drugs can contact the DEA tip line here.