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Last updated: Wed. Jan. 23, 2008 - 03:37 pm EDT

2 arrests could end Rx spree of robbery

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What is OxyContin?

•OxyContin is the name brand of a time-released painkiller used to treat pain from injuries, arthritis, cancer and other ailments.

•Its active ingredient, oxycodone, produces a heroin-like high if crushed and then snorted, swallowed or injected. It is highly addictive.

Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

The scheme was familiar: A robber marches into a pharmacy, waves around a weapon and demands the prescription drug OxyContin.

But while a recent string of OxyContin thefts imitated a crime spree that targeted more than 70 pharmacies from 2001 to 2003, it likely ended last week after just four robberies.

Law officers trained in fighting such crimes say better surveillance systems and training for pharmacists are part of the reason serial robbers are easier to foil than just five years ago.

The prescription painkiller OxyContin contains oxycodone, which produces a heroin-like high when crushed and then snorted, swallowed or injected. It is highly addictive.

Police in Greenwood arrested two men Friday after the armed robbery of OxyContin pills at a Walgreens drugstore in the central Indiana city.

The same men are believed to be responsible for three robberies at Walgreens stores in Fort Wayne on Dec. 11, Dec. 22 and Jan. 13 that netted them about 1,300 pills, Fort Wayne police Detective James Seay said Tuesday.

Brothers Damian J. Miller, 26, and Samuel J. Miller, 23, both of Fort Wayne, are being held in the Johnson County Jail, facing preliminary charges of armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, confinement, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance and theft.

Although the investigation is ongoing, police believe the two brothers were stealing the drugs for their own use, a common motivator behind such robberies.

“That's usually how it goes,” Seay said. “They just do what they've got to do to get it.”

Addiction was behind a Fort Wayne couple's tri-state OxyContin robbery spree that ended with arrests in Ohio in 2003.

Steven Mayer admitted to committing dozens of robberies throughout northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and western Ohio from 2001 to 2003 to fuel his and his wife's addictions.

Mayer is serving a 35-year sentence in prison in Ohio for his pharmacy robberies there. His wife, Amber Mayer, was sentenced to six years in prison for her part in the robberies.

Security boost help

Pharmacies in northeast Indiana enjoyed a relatively peaceful period since Mayer's arrest, but that doesn't mean they've forgotten their vulnerability.

Walgreens corporate spokeswoman Carol Hively declined to go into detail regarding security updates to area pharmacies but said the corporation has followed the advice of law enforcement to make its stores safer.

Advances in video surveillance technology in the past five years have made robbing pharmacies riskier, New Haven Detective Sgt. Craig Robison said.

Nearly all local pharmacies have switched to digital surveillance systems, which create a clearer picture than previous VHS systems, Robison said.

Robison, a member of the federal Northeast Indiana Bank Robbery Task Force, said that multiagency group adopted pharmacy robberies as one of its causes back in 2002 during the Mayer investigation.

The task force contains members from federal law enforcement agencies and area police and sheriff's departments, as well as the Allen County Prosecutor's Office and Indiana State Police.

After officers on the task force reported OxyContin robberies in their jurisdictions, they decided the task force should investigate, because its members are federal agents who can cross state lines, Robison said.

Law enforcement also began increasing efforts to educate pharmacies on how better to protect their employees and customers, similar to the training given bank tellers.

Fort Wayne's most recent pharmacy robberies were caught on video. While the suspect's hooded parka jacket obscures his face in the video from the first robbery, the third has a better picture, Robison said.

Charges are pending against the men, and authorities are looking to have the pair indicted on federal charges because the penalties are more severe, Robison said.

aturner@jg.net


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