Though the proprietors of Riverhead’s two owner-operated pharmacies express concern and nervousness in the wake of and death at two Suffolk County Island drug stores, neither say they will stop stocking narcotic-based pain killers such as oxycodone.
“People have asked, ‘why don’t you just not carry the medications these people want?’” said Barry Barth of on East Main Street. “But we fill a lot of legitimate prescriptions for pain management and we have the Peconic Bay Medical Center right in our backyard.
“It’s something that is part of what we do, and we just can’t turn away from it because it’s become complicated and difficult,” he said. “Nevertheless, as a pharmacist and member of the community, I’m deeply concerned.”
Both pharmacists, however, have made changes in their operating procedures. Barth’s, for example, is now closing each weekday at 7:00 in the evening, rather than 8:00, and has installed cameras with recording capabilities.
“I employ female pharmacists and female clerks, and I’m concerned about having someone here late in the evening,” Barth said.
He said people are also suggesting that he carry a gun or put up bullet-proof glass, “but those are things I’m not prepared to do.”
Barth said he has instructed his staff not to resist if there is a hold-up attempt. “Just give them the money or put the drugs in a paper bag and tell them to leave us alone,” he said.
At Martin Drugs on Route 58, owner Thomas Serio has made it a policy to not fill a pain pill prescription unless the customer lives locally and has a prescription from a local doctor. He said he has no choice but to clamp down because the number of attempted fraud has increased dramatically.
“It’s almost gotten to the point where we’re turning away more prescriptions than we’re filling,” he said.
Fueling the increase, he said, are tighter procedures at all drug stores. “Pharmacies in general are being more careful about what they’re filling, so we’re actually getting more people coming in,” he said.
“People are shopping doctors, they’re shopping pharmacies, they’re altering prescriptions, and no one is policing these things,” he said.
“I’m not blaming anyone, but now that we’ve had these two tragedies, it’s opened peoples’ eyes and now something is going to be done,” he said. “It’s just like everything else. It’s like putting up a stop light at a crossing after someone has been run over by a car.”
Serio said that a rule of thumb is always to ask first for an address and then ask to see a driver’s license. “If they don’t match up, we immediately know there’s a problem,” he said.
Barth said that whenever he or a staff member have any doubts, a phone call is made to the prescribing doctor for verification.
He cited an example three weeks ago when a young man came in with prescription written on the pad of a Brooklyn doctor but with a driver’s license showing a Wadding River address.
Barth said he called the doctor, who said he didn’t know the customer and said that he recently had prescription slips stolen from his office. With the customer still at the counter, Barth called the police and an officer showed up six minutes later.
Barth said the young man explained to the officer that he had gone to Brooklyn because he had heard there was a person there who could write out a prescription.
“He admitted to the cop that he had paid that person for the prescription, and then I guess he thought everything would be OK,” Barth said.
Barth had high praise for the Riverhead police. Police Chief David Hegermiller did not immediately return a request for comment.
“Whenever we’ve had instances of forged prescriptions, the Riverhead police have been here very, very quickly,” he said. “So that’s the good part.”