September 28, 2013

Waterville chief spreads word on drug fight

At a Boston convention, he shares the program he developed to discourage prescription drug misuse.

By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE – Police Chief Joseph Massey tells the story about a woman who recently tried to mail 2,100 methadone pills, worth about $65,000, to another state.

"The carrier was suspicious of the package and opened it," Massey said.

The carrier notified Waterville police, who launched an investigation. Officers learned the 10-milligram pills were legally prescribed by a doctor and the woman got them at a pharmacy. She was traveling for an extended period and got a 90-day methadone supply, Massey said.

"Initially, we thought maybe someone had forged a prescription," he said. "How was someone able to get a prescription for 2,100 methadone pills?"

Massey's department was rightly suspicious, with prescription drug abuse having skyrocketed in recent years. While the prescription turned out to be legitimate, Massey is concerned when large amounts of medications are readily available.

"It goes to show you, sometimes, that these pills are prescribed in very large quantities," he said. "Even if it's a legitimate prescription, there's the opportunity for someone to steal 2,100 pills and have those things out on the street."

Massey is an expert of sorts when it comes to prescription drug diversion.

Last weekend, he was invited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to speak to 300 pharmacists and others from all over the Northeast at the Pharmacy Diversion Awareness Conference in Boston. He talked about a prescription drug diversion program he started in Waterville in 2007.

The program, later emulated by police departments statewide, provides information about people convicted in drug-related cases to pharmacies, doctors' offices, hospital emergency rooms and other places that dispense narcotics.

The monthly fact sheets include photos, bios and information about charges, Massey said.

"This is just a resource, another tool, for a pharmacist or other person responsible for dispensing narcotics, to take a look at someone and say, 'Should I pick up the phone and call the doctor and verify he is a patient and needs Oxycodone?' "


Those who abuse prescription drugs get them in all sorts of ways, including stealing them from friends and relatives, buying them on the street, obtaining them through doctor shopping and feigning illness in emergency rooms.

Some also rob pharmacies.

In Maine this year, there have been eight pharmacy robberies. That number is down from 56 in 2012 and 24 in 2011, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

No pharmacy robberies have occurred so far this year in Waterville, but in 2012, three were reported; in 2011, none; and in 2010, one.

Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, said he doesn't know the exact reason for the decrease, but it may be a combination of factors, including a high arrest rate after pharmacy robberies.

Also, convicted robbers have received significant sentences. The District Attorney's Office mandated that all pharmacy robbers be prosecuted federally, and news media coverage helped raise awareness, according to McKinney.

"Is that sending a deterrent message to people that may engage in that type of violent behavior?" he asked. "I don't know."


The Maine DEA, sheriff's departments, police, medical facilities and community prevention coalitions also have organized drug take-back days around the state for people to dispose of unwanted or unused prescription drugs. More than 70 police departments in Maine have drop boxes for those drugs, according to McKinney.

A take-back day was hosted in the spring, and another is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 26 in many Maine communities.

"It helps to get these drugs out of the environment so that they're not readily available for diversion," McKinney said. "It's one more element in combating diversion of controlled prescription drugs."

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