AUGUSTA – A drugstore holdup this week just a few blocks from Maine’s State House was the 23rd this year by bandits seeking pharmaceutical drugs. Maine’s next drugstore robbery will tie the total for all of 2011.

Those figures point to a crisis, state officials say, and action is being taken on several fronts to help prevent a robbery that could end with someone’s death or injury.

Almost no part of Maine has been immune from the wave of drugstore heists. Typically, the robber claims to have a weapon, demands prescription opiates and leaves.

On Monday at a CVS pharmacy a short walk from the Capitol complex and governor’s mansion, a robber wearing a wig and saying he had a gun left with nearly 500 pills. Hours later, two men were arrested on robbery charges.

No one has been seriously injured, but the escalating number of robberies, including a recent one at a crowded Walmart in Waterville, increases the odds that somebody will get hurt, Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said Friday.

“The level of danger to the public has increased,” Morris said.

A MaineToday Media investigation of Maine’s prescription drug abuse problem, published in October, showed that pharmacies and police departments had tried a variety of tactics to slow the robberies, with little success.

The use of surveillance cameras, police tracking dogs and electronic tracking devices helped police arrest suspects in many cases, but did little to discourage addicts.

In Biddeford, police hosted anti-robbery training sessions for pharmacists and recommended that drugstores ban customers who are wearing hoodies and dark glasses.

Still, police statewide said the robberies were increasing in frequency and violence.

After two robberies of one pharmacy in Bingham, for example, the owner posted signs saying he no longer stocked OxyContin, the favorite target of robbers. The store was nevertheless robbed a third time by a man who tied up the employees at gunpoint before taking a variety of other painkillers.

In 2008, Maine had only two pharmacy robberies. The number grew to 24 by 2011. Less than halfway through 2012, the state has had 23 pharmacy robberies, said Morris, who attributes Maine’s 5 percent overall increase in crime last year to prescription drug abuse.

“If my math is right, by the end of the year, 14 percent of all the drugstores in Maine would have been robbed,” Morris said. “Now is that a scary figure?”

But those numbers tell only part of the story. Maine has crossed the line to where there are more deaths related to prescription drugs — mainly overdoses of opiates — than traffic crashes.

The trend started in 2009, in which there were 164 deaths from drugs and 159 from motor vehicle crashes.

The figures and trends haven’t escaped the attention of Attorney General William Schneider, who held a summit on prescription drug abuse last fall. Early this year, Gov. Paul LePage ordered the formation of the state Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, which has been meeting monthly and will meet again next week.

“It’s such a pervasive problem in Maine,” Schneider said. “I would call it a crisis.”

He said the task force is focusing more closely on monitoring the use of controlled drugs, as a way to discourage abuse, as it works toward creating a final list of recommendations.

For example, it sees more potential for Maine’s Prescription Monitoring Program — a database of all transactions for controlled substances dispensed in Maine — to spot doctor shoppers, who seek multiple prescriptions. The database is available online to prescribers and dispensers.

Another idea being examined is a diversion alert, to let prescribers know if a patient has a record of drug arrests, Schneider said.

The panel is also looking at continuing prescription drug collection programs on a regular basis. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has run previous drug collection programs, which have netted at least 6 tons of unwanted, unused and outdated drugs in Maine.

The staggering figure is roughly equivalent to the drugs that Mainers keep in their medicine chests — and lure robbers, Morris said.

Back-to-back increases in burglary rates in Maine in 2010 and 2011 are tied to prescription drugs, Morris said.

Hoping to address the wave of drugstore robberies, Morris has called a meeting of representatives of all of Maine’s drugstore chains on July 9.

“I’m going to let them free-wheel it and let them come up with ideas,” the commissioner said.

Messages left Friday with the Maine Pharmacy Association weren’t returned.

Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.