When someone reports to Westbrook police that their prescription pain medication has been stolen, they’re likely to hear an unexpected question: When can you come back to take a lie detector test?

“Because it’s such a high percentage of false reports when it comes to prescription medication, we have to weed them out,” said Detective Sgt. Patrick Lally.

Reports of stolen pain pills have become a weekly, if not daily, occurrence in police departments around Maine. While some reports are undoubtedly legitimate, police have no doubt that many of them, perhaps most, are false.

People who abuse or sell the pills sometimes tell their doctors that their medications have been stolen just so they can get more, according to police. The stories have become so common that an official police report is now required before a Maine physician will write a replacement prescription.

Police departments are increasingly frustrated about the steady flow of theft reports, sometimes from the same people month after month.

“We became part of that supply chain,” said JoAnne Fisk, deputy chief of the Biddeford Police Department.

While many police agencies process the reports and leave it to doctors to sort the real from the false, Biddeford’s department is trying to tighten up on the scam.

Any report of a drug theft automatically goes to Fisk, who sends a form letter to the alleged victim’s physician warning that, in some cases, “suspicious, questionable or multiple reports of thefts” have been made. She follows up with a phone call to the doctor.

Fisk said she cannot tell doctors which reports are real and which are false, but she is confident that the letters and calls make them more cautious about writing new prescriptions.

After a year and a half of sending letters, the effort appears to be paying off. “I’m down to about a dozen reports a month,” from 20 to 30 a month two years ago, she said.

Westbrook’s police department has taken what may be Maine’s most aggressive approach.

“We’re just tired of wasting our resources on these false reports. A lot of these drugs are being diverted,” said Lally.

Unless the alleged victim’s story is somehow corroborated, Lally often asks them to come back for a lie detector test.

“It’s voluntary,” Lally said. Victims who refuse the test still get their police reports. But the department doesn’t devote resources to investigating those cases, and Lally notifies their physicians that they were less than cooperative.

“What we hope is that the doctor is not going to replace those pills,” he said.

Since Westbrook’s polygraph program began in 2008, 35 alleged victims have refused the test and three have not shown up to take it. All four victims who took the test passed it, Lally said.

The polygraph can take a technician four or five hours to complete. But, Lally said, the department is keeping prescription drugs off the street and saving time and money in the long run. “We’re not investigating those 35 cases,” he said.

Westbrook’s vigilance has produced at least one charge of making a false report, and has reduced the theft reports, said Lally. The department’s 36 reports last year were significantly fewer than in previous years, although the department doesn’t have long-term data.

“A lot of people know they are not going to pass it,” he said, “so they don’t even bother coming in.”

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]