A wave of pharmacy robberies is sweeping the nation as desperate addicts and ruthless dealers turn to violence to feed the growing hunger for narcotic painkillers, the Associated Press reports. From Redmond, Wa., to St. Augustine, Fl., robbers are holding pharmacists at gunpoint and escaping with thousands of powerfully addictive pills that can sell for as much as $80 apiece on the street. Last Sunday, a robber walked into a neighborhood drugstore on Long Island, N.Y., and gunned down the pharmacist, a teenage store clerk, and two customers before leaving with a backpack full of pills containing hydrocodone.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Michael Fox, a pharmacist on New York’s Staten Island who has been robbed twice in the past year. “These people are depraved. They’ll kill you.” Armed robberies at pharmacies rose 81 percent between 2006 and 2010, from 380 to 686, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said. The number of pills stolen rose from 706,000 to 1.3 million. Thieves are mostly taking oxycodone painkillers like OxyContin or Roxicodone, or hydrocodone-based painkillers like Vicodin and Norco. Prescription painkillers are the second most-abused drugs after marijuana, with 7 million Americans using them illegally in the past month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says.