Spring Creek Pharmacy in Springville robbed for narcotic pain medication
At 5:17 p.m. on July 25, the suspect, a white male, entered Spring Creek Pharmacy on Depot Street, told the pharmacist he had a gun and demanded a specific narcotic medication.
The pharmacist gave the man what he wanted and the police were called at 5:20. Less than a minute later, law enforcement personnel were on the scene. By that time, the suspect had fled on foot and, despite casing the area, the police were not able to apprehend the suspect. As Spring Creek Pharmacy owner Dave Williams told the police, as they secured the crime scene, “[Springville] is not Mayberry, anymore.”
Williams, who has been a pharmacist since 1988, said this is not the first negative incident that has occurred at the pharmacy in recent months and that it might be indicative of a “culture change” surrounding the attitude toward prescription narcotic drugs in the United States.
“Someone threw a rock through our window. Over the past month and a half, kids had taken rocks and thrown them around our employee parking lot. Two of our employees had their vehicles broken into,” Williams said. “There’s been a lot of discouraging activity.”
Dale Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge of the Buffalo resident office of the Drug Enforcement Administration said that, “Generally speaking, there has been a rise in pharmacy burglaries, both statewide and nationally. That is consistent with a rise in the use and abuse of prescription narcotics, particularly the opiates.”
“In the past, we would not have applied a federal charge, but now the U.S. attorney’s office has been charging people federally.”
He referenced an incident that took place in South Buffalo last March, in which more than 1,300 oxycodone pain pills were stolen from a pharmacy and sold on the streets. He noted that, after a DEA wiretap revealed that drug dealers were robbing pharmacies to supply their products, those incidents could be tied to drug sales, as well as medication abuse.
“People use these drugs, get addicted and there’s a high demand. They can be sold at a premium, sometimes $50 – $60 a pill,” he added.
According to the New York State Department of Health, in 2010, one in 20 people in the nation older than 11 used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons. The department also said there were enough opioid painkillers prescribed in 2010 to medicate every adult in the country, at a rate of once every four hours.
Data from that department also found that Western New York had twice the rates of prescriptions for hydrocodone than anywhere else in the state. Pharmacy robberies have risen sharply both nationally and statewide, as well.
Between 2006 and 2010, crimes against pharmacies rose from 380 to 686, a 79 percent increase, according to the DEA. In New York state, the increase in pharmacy robberies was from 4 in 2006 to 30 in 2010.
In addition, the number of individuals arrested by the DEA for diverting controlled prescription drugs in New York state rose after 2009. In that year, 59 individuals were arrested for redirecting controlled prescription narcotics.
That number jumped to 169 in 2010, a 286 percent increase. In 2011, the number of individuals arrested climbed to 217.
Williams said the burglary in Springville was “just the icing on the cake and the sign of the direction of what the pharmacy is seeing in this area.”
He noted that, although “9 percent of our customers cause 99 percent of our problems ... There has been a rash of people in the past few years (since we moved into the train station), who have not been paying their bills, lying to me or practicing narcotic diversion.
“Prior to someone taking something, you’ll have someone picking up their prescriptions and not having the co-pay and the next thing you know, you can’t get the co-pay. It’s very evident to us when there is narcotic diversion going on. [Some] people do manipulate their prescriptions. Some get them filled early to accumulate the drugs.”
Kasprzyk said that, in a case like the Spring Creek Pharmacy robbery, the DEA and law enforcement offices look at pharmacy burglaries on both immediate response and long-range levels.
“We want to stop the violence; keep these things from happening,” he said. “But we also want to develop information on any other drug networks [to discern whether pharmacy robbers] are doing it to support drug trafficking activity.”
Williams said he and his staff have a “heightened awareness” of the necessary security to keep Spring Creek Pharmacy and its staff members safe.
“Following the incident, I have heightened awareness and security and will be installing more cameras. I want to make it very evident that this [preparation] has taken place,” Williams said.
“My staff is amazing. Most have been with our store for seven – 11 years. They are very experienced and have been working together for a long time.
“We have raised our staff awareness. Our staff is keeping an eye out for problems in the store ... They have dealt with it well, overall. They’re thankful there was no violence. They’re also angry, like I am. I’m very proud of every one of them. They are very tight, very efficient,” Williams said.
“I keep replaying it in my head; everyone does. It was so bizarre. He was totally an amateur. He didn’t try to seal off the entrances. I can’t imagine what would have happened if a customer came in right then. What happens if an ex-Marine comes in and decides to take matters into his own hands? It’s a scary thing, not to have control over that.”
Despite feeling “shaken” by the event, Williams said he and his staff were impressed by the police response, noting that law enforcement arrived within 2 minutes of the 911 call.
“Anybody that thinks the police in Springville are small-town cops, they’re wrong. I have seen some excellent police work, some great detective work around this [situation]. This town is very well-protected by the police. I stand by the police and if they weren’t doing what they’re doing, this would have happened a long time ago,” he said. “The cops in this town are doing a lot more than writing tickets for [using cell phones while driving].”
As the pharmacy recovers from both the recent vandalism and robbery, Williams said there are “a lot of socioeconomic factors” he has to consider.
“It comes at a huge cost to me. I will have to spend [thousands of dollars] on new cameras, and I already had to spend money to replace the broken window, not to mention paying for the drugs that were stolen. None of this was covered by my insurance, so every penny is out of my own pocket.”
He said his customers are “concerned on numerous levels. First, they are aware that this is a sign of a downturn in our community and that doesn’t feel good. It occurred to a place that is one of most people’s major shopping areas. A lot of people come in here once, twice a month, all year. They are upset the ... prices [might] go up. I can’t keep footing the bill,” Williams said.
According to Erie County Sheriff’s Office Detective Greg McCarthy, the suspect is described as being a white male in his late teens or early 20s with a slim build. He is approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall and was wearing a grey sweatshirt, black pants and shoes and a black bandana as a mask at the time of the robbery.
“The hat was a hip-hop style hat with some sort of design on the front and the side. That’s the most defining item we have right now,” said McCarthy.
Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to contact McCarthy at 667-5224 or Detective Jack Graham at 667-5282.