The surveillance photos typically show a medium-size suspect shrouded in a hooded sweatshirt or jacket. Rarely do they give detectives much useful information as they investigate recent robberies at pharmacies.

But criminals talk, and somebody knows who the robbers are. So police and the maker of an often-abused painkiller are hoping that an offer of cash will shake loose some leads.

Purdue Pharma, which makes the powerful time-release painkiller OxyContin, is contributing reward money for information leading to the arrests of the people who robbed pharmacies in Naples and Biddeford.

The initiative represents corporate social responsibility and practicality, said Rick Zenuch, director of law enforcement liaison and education for the Connecticut company.

“We want to ensure our patients still have access to the medicine they need. That’s our fear, that pharmacies are no longer going to stock medicines” if robberies and burglaries persist, Zenuch said. “We don’t want to let criminals dictate health care.”

The offer of $1,000 has already generated telephone tips related to the robbery of the Rite Aid at 665 Roosevelt Trail in Naples on May 10. Cumberland County sheriff’s detectives are following up on those leads.

Chief Deputy Kevin Joyce said that, hopefully, the reward money will help get dangerous criminals off the street and make people less inclined to commit robberies.

“Eventually, somebody’s going to get hurt,” Joyce said. “We’ve been lucky so far. Only the drugs have been taken and nobody has been injured or killed.”

OxyContin can be beneficial to people with severe chronic pain, but it is one of the most abused drugs, historically selling on the street for $1 per milligram.

The reward money is part of Purdue Pharma’s RxPATROL program, which started in 2003. The company’s director for corporate security found there was no government clearinghouse for information about crimes specific to pharmacies.

Now, police report information to the program, which makes it available to other agencies and pharmacies to help prevent such crimes. The database includes information on 5,599 incidents, including 1,443 robberies, 1,848 frauds and 1,042 burglaries.

The company began funding rewards of varying amounts through Crime Stoppers in 2005, and the money has helped police arrest more than 100 suspects, Zenuch said.

“It’s mainly about trying to have an impact on a situation that really is beyond our control,” Zenuch said. “The abuse of prescription drugs around the country is escalating at a pretty steady rate.”

The company tracks pharmacy crime nationally, so when it learned of the recent robberies in Maine, it contacted police to determine whether a reward might help.

Biddeford’s deputy police chief, JoAnne Fisk, said the money is a major benefit to police and, hopefully, will help in the investigation of the robbery at the Rite Aid on Alfred Street on June 8.

“Tight budgets make it difficult for any municipality to come up with that kind of reward money, and without the general public’s assistance, most times it makes it very difficult to solve crimes,” Fisk said.

Police hope the same desperation that leads people to rob pharmacies may lead others to make anonymous calls to Crime Stoppers.

“This is a thousand dollars,” Joyce said. “If they need money, they may rat out their buddy if they’ve got the information.”

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]