ATLANTA | A wave of break-ins and robberies of Georgia pharmacies is being fueled by a drug epidemic, authorities said.
In June, a thief with a sledgehammer broke into a Snellville pharmacy and stole thousands of dollars worth of pain pills and other medication for cancer and sickle cell patients, police said.
In December, burglars netted about 9,000 Oxycodone pills valued at $12,000 from a Walgreens in Stockbridge.
In January, a woman armed with a gun robbed a Forsyth County pharmacy of various medications. Police believe the same woman robbed a Norcross pharmacy last fall.
The crimes illustrate the scope of the nation’s ongoing drug epidemic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Earlier this month, a bi-partisan coalition of 23 members of Congress asked President Donald Trump to add $9.3 billion to the nation’s fiscal 2018 budget to fight the crisis.
The increasing crimes — fueled by the opiate crisis — have placed Georgia among the top 10 states in the nation with the most armed robberies of pharmacies, federal authorities said.
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that hundreds of thousands of dollars of drugs have been stolen from Georgia pharmacies in the last year. Authorities say efforts to crack down on over-prescribing pain management clinics known as pill mills have led to the surge in pharmacy thefts around the state.
“A contributing factor is the crackdown on pill mills,” said Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, which oversees all pharmacies and prescription drugs activities in the state.
In addition, there’s more oversight of doctors who tended to over-prescribe medications which forces patients to look elsewhere to feed their addiction, authorities said.
“With the pill mills closing down, we’ve seen an increase in the number of burglaries, robberies and (employee) pilferage,” Allen told the Atlanta newspaper. “The demand or need for prescription drugs is still there. The black market just finds a source. People who went to pill mills to get drugs to sell have to find another source and that source has become pharmacies. Either that or addicts turn to heroin.”
Some of the thieves work in groups known as rings or crews, while others prefer to work alone, authorities said. And they’re venturing beyond metro Atlanta.
Putnam County, about 80 miles east of Atlanta, has three pharmacies serving a population of just under 7,000, the newspaper reported. It saw its first drug store armed robbery in November 2015.
Police in Athens, Conyers, LaGrange, Rockdale, Snellville and other communities have also reported a surge in drug store thefts in the last couple of years.
“It’s coming from Atlanta and spreading southward and east to west,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said.