Maine’s 58 pharmacy robberies in 2012 were more than double any previous year, prompting authorities to strike back with harsher penalties and federal help.

Eighteen state, county and local law enforcement officers from around the state will help federal agents investigate pharmacy robberies and prescription drug abuse, said U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty. Suspects in these crimes may face federal charges, which can carry stiffer sentences than state charges.

Police this week distributed stickers to pharmacies statewide announcing that those who steal prescription medications can be charged with federal crimes.

The number of pharmacy robberies in Maine spiked from 24 in 2011 to 58 in 2012, but there have been only six since January, well below last year’s pace. Pharmacies in Augusta, Sanford, Windham, Yarmouth, Kingfield and Bath have been targeted this year.

“It’s a lot fewer, but it’s six too many,” Delahanty said. “We’ve been extremely lucky there have been no serious injuries.”

There were eight pharmacy robberies statewide in 2009, Delahanty said.

“The FBI approach (to pharmacy robberies) is similar to bank robberies,” Delahanty said. “It’s just a different business. That’s where the idea of stickers came from. They commonly distributed stickers to banks. We like to think it’s somewhat of a deterrent.”

Charges have been filed in all six pharmacy robberies this year, Delahanty said. In one case, charges were dismissed, and in two others, the state will prosecute. Federal prosecutors have brought charges in the Kingfield robbery and charged two Dresden residents with the June 14 robbery in Bath.

Delahanty said a lot of things have contributed to this year’s decline in pharmacy robberies. One is that other drugs, particularly heroin, are more available and cheaper than prescription drugs.

“I think the pharmacy robberies increased as the source of drugs on the street was getting tighter,” Delahanty said.

It’s impossible to know for sure what, if any, impact the threat of federal prosecution has played in reducing robberies.

Delahanty said he’d like to think it has, “but I can’t point to anything specific that would verify that.”

His office last year compared sentences levied by the state and federal judges and found the state often imposes significant sentences, but with much of the time suspended in favor of additional years of probation.

“There’s a number of factors to take into consideration when deciding whether the state is going to prosecute,” Delahanty said. Those factors include whether the suspect has a record with the state or whether there are additional charges that federal officials could not prosecute.

Kevin Holland, owner of Variety Drug in Skowhegan and Mt. Blue Drug in Farmington, said he got display stickers from police this week and they’re on the doors of his pharmacies.

“Anything to deter (robberies) from happening, I think, is a good idea,” Holland said Wednesday.

 

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ccrosby@mainetoday.com

 

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

acalder@centralmaine.com