String of Oxycontin Robberies Continue in Washington State: But How Did We Get Here?

I read in last Sunday’s Spokesman-Review of the steps many pharmacies were taking to stop oxycontin robberies.  Then three days later, I read about another Spokane oxycontin robbery.  For those of you haven’t followed the news, the precise problem is addicts going into  pharmacies with a weapon demanding oxycontin pills.  Sometimes, a robber merely pretends to have a weapon or simply writes a threatening note.  According to news reports, Washington State leads the nation in oxycontin robberies. A typical oxycontin robbery job goes something as described in this police wanted photograph.  wanted_flyer_-_456

I am sure this is not fun for the store employees.  Prior to oxycontin coming on the market, I don’t really remember ever hearing too often about pharmacy robberies.  There just is something about oxycontin pills that drives the addicts crazy in a way that morphine or percocet does not do.  The Walgreens in Spokane made national news last week when they announced the problem of oxycontin robberies was so bad in Washington that they were placing special time-delay safes in all stores.  The safes take several minutes to open – the idea being that a robber is not going to stick around for ten minutes or so.  I wonder about this idea.  What pharmacy clerk really wants to break the news to a drug-crazed armed robber that they have to wait ten minutes?  If I were a clerk I would rather just have a bottle handy  right there by the counter I could toss in a hurry.   Drug-crazed robbers are dangerous, and Seattle robbery Detective Mike Magan explained: “I’ve always said the person who commits pharmacy robberies for oxycontin is the most dangerous person you’ll come up against…”. To combat oxycontin robberies, the Seattle police department provided a tracking device to a pharmacy to put in with the oxycontin  should a robbery occur.   (See story.)  The man they caught was suspected of committing 16 pharmacy robberies.

In response to such robberies, the elected prosecutor from King County, Dan Satterberg, is pushing the state legislature to increase the penalties for these oxycontin robberies.   The Washington Retailers Association is also supporting this.  I won’t argue against such ideas, but I would encourage our legislatures to remember how we got into this mess in the first place.

How about the pharmaceutical company Purdue-Pharma that invented and mass-marketed oxycontin?  The company agreed that it committed a felony when it marketed oxycontin and hid how unsafe it was.  The company faced 600 million in fines after it plead guilty, but how come the executives never went to jail?  (See news reports).  According to a story in the New York Times, “…Purdue Pharma contended that OxyContin, because of its time-release formulation, posed a lower threat of abuse and addiction to patients than do traditional, shorter-acting painkillers like Percocet or Vicodin.”   Lower threat then Vicodin?  This false claim by Purdue Pharma was the center of their aggressive marketing campaign.  Just a few years after the drug’s introduction in 1996, annual sales reached $1 billion.  According to the above mentioned article, “Purdue Pharma heavily promoted OxyContin to doctors like general practitioners, who had often had little training in the treatment of serious pain or in recognizing signs of drug abuse in patients.”  The story continues: “…both experienced drug abusers and novices, including teenagers, soon discovered that chewing an OxyContin tablet or crushing one and then snorting the powder or injecting it with a needle produced a high as powerful as heroin. By 2000, parts of the United States, particularly rural areas, began to see skyrocketing rates of addiction and crime related to use of the drug.”  Although drug companies often can’t predict the consequences of their products, Purdue Pharma had to admit that they deliberately concealed the harmful effects of its drug.

Although the company had to pay $600 million in fines, the profits from the sale of oxycontin were about four times that much.   Purdue Pharma had a lot of money to hire lawyers, and when they were being investigated they hired Rudy Guilliani to try to use his influence to get the DEA to back off.  Guilliani accepted several million dollars for this service.  See story.  Guilliani went to see the local Virginia prosecutor that was going after Purdue Pharma, and the local prosecutor ultimately agreed that the three executives would not have to do jail time.  See story.  So while I am not really happy that drug addled nitwits are robbing our state’s pharmacies, I am troubled by the unfairness of a system that allowed the executives who created this mess to get off without any jail time.  The judge who handled the sentencing of the executives felt the same way.  He explained that the the lack of jail time for the executives was the “most difficult” part of accepting the plea deal.  Protesters outside the court house were angry that the executives were getting off so lightly.  Many protesters had lost loved ones to accidental overdoses of the drug.

This poster was held by a woman protesting the light sentences for the executives.  Her 17-year-old daughter died of an overdose of just one pill of this supposedly "safer" pill.

This poster was held by a woman protesting the light sentences for the executives. Her 17-year-old daughter died of an overdose of just one pill of this supposedly "safer" pill.

You can see why the family members of people hurt by oxycontin would be upset by the court system.

What responsibility does Purdue Pharma have as to all the oxycontin pharmacy robberies in this State?  Not much apparently.  According to the Spokesman-Review last week, the company that has made 2.8 billion on this drug was offering just a measly $1,000 reward for the latest robbery.

You really have to wonder about the way drug companies market these prescriptions.   The latest problem is the practice of drug companies writing articles about how great their latest drugs are and then finding a doctor to submit the article to a publication.  The article then makes no mention of the fact that the article was not really written by the particular physician.  With oxycontin, Purdue Pharma would market oxycontin by getting in good with doctors with free trips.  Purdue Pharma would pay for the transportation and hotel costs for hundreds of doctors to attend weekend seminars in spots like Florida to discuss pain management.  Doctors were then recruited and paid to speak to other doctors at some of the 7,000 ”pain management” seminars that Purdue sponsored around the country.  The seminars  taught the importance of aggressively treating pain with the powerful drugs made by Purdue Pharma.

I find it highly annoying that all the discussion of these oxycontin robberies ignores how we got into this oxycontin disaster to begin with.  As seen in the wanted poster above, going after a drug addict in a hat and hooded sweatshirt is pretty easy.  They look guilty, and you can score political points by being “tough on crime”.    All of the police detectives, prosecutors, politicians, defense lawyers, legislators, probation officers and judges of Washington State coping with this problem are really just janitors cleaning up a mess left by powerful forces of money and power and influence back East.

6 Responses to “String of Oxycontin Robberies Continue in Washington State: But How Did We Get Here?”

  • How noble of Purdue Pharma to provide rewards through their “RX Patrol” for pharmacy breakins. As a point of interest, I have been actively exposing Purdue Pharma for the past 7-1/2 years for criminally marketing OxyContin. In July 2007, Purdue Pharma and its 3 CEO’s Michael Friedman, Howard Udell and Paul Goldenheim were charged with criminally marketing OxyContin to physicians and patients as less likely to be addictive or abused. They pled guilty to the charges and were sentenced. My work now focuses on the further criminal activity of Purdue Pharma in marketing for “pregnancy pain” and the “undertreatment of pain in infants and pediatric patients.” I now work with the FDA in an effort to expose and curtail this criminal marketing by Purdue Pharma in an effort to addict the most vulnerable of people. For Purdue Pharma to now offer a reward for the epidemic they are responsible for is like asking Charles Manson to help America’s Most Wanted track felons in order to restore his reputation. Give me a break — there is a special place in hell for all of them for destroying scores of families throughout the country.

    Marianne Skolek
    National Activist for Victims of OxyContin and
    Purdue Pharma – a criminally convicted pharmaceutical company

  • Drew:

    Of course, the people who came up with the ‘it-takes-10-minutes-to-open-the-safe” deal aren’t the same ones who are working in the store to deal with the drug-crazed, gun-wielding people trying to steal from it.

  • Steve,

    We daily see the ravages created by OxyContin. Purdue, its manufacturer is an admitted criminal company and has profited for many years by not having an abuse resistant pill. Why? Because they want to make profits and know that making their drug, which is really legal heroin, less able to be abused will cost them money.

    We operate Novus Medical Detox Center in Florida. We daily work with people that used OxyContin if they can’t get heroin and heroin when they couldn’t get OxyContin.

    If you want to read chilling comments by people who have lost children, parents and friends to OxyContin, go to

    Steve Hayes
    Novus Medical Detox Center

  • Crystal:

    OxyContin is a safe drug when taken as prescribed, the drug is only abused when people chew and swallow, crush and snort, crush and injected. This is a good drug it has helped a lot of people who suffer from chronic debilitating pain. This drug is less habit forming because it is long acting and it doesn’t give a euphoric high, like a short acting drug like vicodin. So I wouldn’t say the Drug company was completly wrong, the drug is still being used and has added quality to many pt’s lives.

  • As it would seem, the Social Grace of the Rich is above the Law as long as the dollar support is at the back door.
    Do you wish to end this War, then stage a protest march that will awaken the American People, then take this War issue against Purdue Pharmaceutical Company…. I am tired of seeing our Men and Women of the United States Military die as the America Dollar supports our enemy.
    Join Us…in the
    International Boycott Of The Arabic Drug Empire Phase 2
    Welcome to FASC Concepts / The Day The World Stood Still / We are at War with a Drug Empire
    For nine years we have been at war and I still ask the big why ? Why is there a hands off policy that prevent the destruction of these poppy plants ? Did you know that American Dollars supported the Terrorist Attack on 9/11/2001, and thousands of lives have been lost. Who are the investors of the Pharmaceutical Company Purdue that makes Oxycontin and how are they above the Law ? Oxycontin is Heroin made from the opium / poppy plants. It is Illegal by Law to buy and resale Heroin. Purdue is responsible for the deaths on 9/11 and the on going addiction here in America. If it was Purdue who wished to be known as the largest heroin dealer in the USA, well congratulations and for showing the people who you do business with.
    This drug from the poppy plant and the fight against its use goes back around 4000 to 6000 years and man seeks to control that which has shown that the poppy plant is as nature selected, uncontrollable. This is like a old saying as the as the Scorpion stung the Frog as he swim across the water and the Frog said why did you do this , now both of us will die ? And the Scorpion said it is my nature….
    This is my War against the Arabic Drug Empire……
    Please allow me to share a concept with the People Of America, that will build for tomorrow. The Great Wall Of China in America. A 10 year project, and within the respect of why China built that wall and even as of today China makes money form that wall. This project will build towns and cities on both sides of the border and will bring peace and security. Another concepts is,
    To find a way into the hearts of children, first you must allow a truth to be shared and then let this share build within their hearts and you will see children open their minds to things not known.
    I read these things and I see where the Arabic Drug Empire is involved with the Mexican Drug Lords. What lost of understanding is that according to the faith of Bin Laden it is forbidden by God to walk among the infidels. That all infidels are to be vanquished from this world in order that the chosen ones will repopulate the world. It is a well known fact that the Arabic Drug Empire seek biological war tactics and it has been heard that a chemical balance is sought of how to implement Biological with Drugs, in order for it to be undetectable. The betraying of the Mexican Drug Lords by The Arabic Drug Empire will bring death to Mexico and the United States. Why should the Mexican Drug Empire take faith in my words, first If you and I stood before God I say to you that this is true it is the words of the streets that hold credit, and nothing is offered to them, The Mexican Drug Lords, dealing drugs is illegal.
    When I wrote my first ” Boycott” I just wanted to see the trickle effect it would have, with out stepping into a forth dimension and having my in site lost. The Arabic Drug Empire is the only one in the world that seeks to kill every last man woman and child in the world in order for their chosen few can repopulate the world….Our goal is for our words to go around the world, to be heard in the streets to the country until it reaches the White House and shakes the very foundation of this Government Institution. It is not what we say that counts in as much as, it is what we do not say that builds words of truth. Some say that a Boycott is a waist of time, but it would depend on what is said , to understand we wish to live and we fight with words of truth to in force our right, because we face inhalation through the miss use of a faith.
    It is not our goal to change a way a people think, but it is a goal to show only a truth, my goal is simple, to bring the destruction and down fall of this empire…
    Some people ask me not to post this that some will think that i am nuts, but hey, look at this stuff that people do because of drugs, I think that nuts fits this drug world real good.
    The following is also linked to drugs and Drug Empires that date back around 1000 years BC and a World and things not spoken of because of a intent for it to disappear from the knowledge of Mankind. A world so old that time its self had all most for got. A true story, also documented in history. That because of malevolent acts that is also ancient and is also documented history before Christ, the sacrileges committed against God in order to gain great wealth and to enslave nations through drugs, to build children into that they wish…. All of this is true and a fact of documentation of history. This sacrilege spoken of is in fact the sacrifice of life to spiritual evil. Even now documentation in Mexico and the United States , 1979 to 2000 reports filed and some cover ups now proved to be true. It is time to step away sit back and see what this drug dealing is doing and see those who have begun to lose their soul to this money making drug and the true and ancient evil bound to it. You do not have to take faith in my words for now, let your soul and mind speak to you. Some people seek proof of God, will, let me show you the essence of evil first and ah, will enjoy the ride, because it is said by thousands of people who do drugs that some how a door was opened to them a what came through to them, is only felt / sensed, and it stays in a darkness unseen to eyes, as it twist their soul into the thing of which they are not. As for me I read and I see that the fate of men is within their hands. So Im nuts huuu….Will I have shown you the links and a truth that you did not know, a world that should have been lost in knowledge of things so old and built within Empires, so help to pay this forward.
    So join Us International Boycott Of The Arabic Drug Empire Phase 2
    Henry Massingale / FASC Concepts in and for Pay It Forward covers the web post on google Drop by and see why we built a anti crime / war form in a Health Care Reform Concept. To strategically Rebuild America on google look for page 1 american dream official site

  • Beyonce Knowles:

    When reading the newspapers I can’t help but noticing the increased amount of pharmacy robberies that are solely motivated to obtain the prescription drug Oxycontin. Oxycontin is a slow-released tablet containing high quantities of pure Oxycodone, therefore providing for a very powerful, yet very addictive class of opiate pain medication. Due to the extremely addictive properties of this CII controlled substance this prescription drug is nowadays only prescribed for long term pain management in terminally ill patients. However, this was unfortunately not always the case…

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
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