Following Reports of Increased Prescription Drug Theft in Ohio, Sen. Brown Urges Crackdown on Pharma-Theft Rings

Ohio Drug Task Forces Seized Nearly 20,000 Units of Stolen Pharmaceutical Drugs in 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With theft of prescription drugs from delivery trucks and warehouses up 350 percent and armed robberies of pharmacies at an all time high, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) co-sponsored legislation that calls for hiking sentences and giving law enforcement the additional tools they need to fight back against dangerous and sophisticated prescription drug theft rings. This is the latest in Sen. Brown’s increased efforts to help keep the flow of highly-addictive and illegal prescription drugs out of Ohio.

“This bill is one front on our war against prescription drug abuse in Ohio. When unintentional drug poisoning surpasses motor vehicle crashes and suicide as the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, the prescription drug abuse epidemic has left too many families and communities are suffering,” Brown said. “This bill is about putting criminals on notice and making sure the penalties fit the huge societal costs associated with the crime.”

Brown joined U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to unveil new detailed legislation to crack down on rising prescription drug thefts which threaten patients and children in Ohio and across the country. Specifically, the legislation would:

•    Increase possible sentences for robbing pharmacies of controlled substances;
•    Increase sentences for the theft of medical products and for transportation and storage of stolen medical products, and apply that increase to each current section of federal law that could be used by prosecutors to charge such crimes;
•    Enhance penalties for stolen medical product “fences,” including individuals and organizations who knowingly obtain stolen products for resale into the supply chain;
•    Increase sentences when harm occurs or trust is broken – in other words, where the defendant is employed by an organization in the supply chain or where there was a death as the result of ingestion of a stolen substance;
•    Make theft of medical products a predicate for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, giving law enforcement access to wiretaps and other sophisticated tools;
•    Provide for civil penalties and forfeiture of ill-gotten gains derived from medical product theft.

While many parts of the nation struggle with the rampant abuse of prescription drugs, two supply-chain problems have emerged:  first, robberies and burglaries of pharmacies are on the increase; second, the theft of cargo loads of medical products is a serious and dangerous problem that puts controlled substances in the hands of abusers and criminals, and endangers the public.

In 2009, drug task forces in Ohio seized 19,872 dosage units of pharmaceutical drugs and diverted 115,776 dosage units. The crime wave has overwhelmed local law enforcement and drawn the attention of the federal authorities.  Unfortunately, the federal penalties for pharmacy theft are low.  In addition, the theft of cargo loads of medical products is a documented and growing problem.  Some of the frequently stolen goods are biologic and perishable, like insulin that are then resold on the retail market, with their labels and expiration dates altered after they have been stored improperly.

Prescription pain medications, such as Oxycodone, morphine, and methadone, are largely responsible for increasing numbers of overdoses and deaths in Ohio. Ohio is second only to Florida in the number of Oxycodone prescriptions filled and Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisoning increased more than 350 percent from 1999 to 2008. In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning surpassed motor vehicle crashes and suicide as the leading cause of injury death in Ohio for the first time on record.  

Brown is working to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and Medicaid fraud in Ohio on all fronts. Last week, Brown wrote a letter urging Florida Governor Rick Scott to maintain the prescription drug monitoring program and help keep the flow of highly-addictive and illegal prescription drugs out of Ohio. The prescription drug pipeline in Florida— a state whose doctors prescribe more pain prescriptions than any other— supplies Ohio and other states with Oxycodone along the I-75 corridor.

Earlier this year, Brown wrote to the Kasich Administration about establishing a Medicaid “lock-in” program, which would enable the Office of Ohio Health Plans to better monitor and control access to prescription drugs that are subject to abuse and trafficking. Last month, Brown wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration, requesting additional federal efforts in cracking down on “pill mills” across Ohio.

Last year, Brown joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing legislation to reauthorize the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Drug Reporting (NASPER) Act, a prescription drug monitoring program critical to combating the abuse of prescription drugs. Sen. Brown has also joined his colleagues in introducing legislation that would prevent teenagers from gaining access to discarded prescription drugs by permitting individuals and long-term care facilities to deliver unused drugs for safe disposal and by expanding drug “take-back” programs.

Brown’s office convened a first-of-its-kind roundtable in March 2010 that brought together federal officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, state officials from the Attorney General's office, Department of Health, and Department of Jobs and Family Services, and community leaders to discuss the issue of drug abuse in Southern Ohio.

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