NC lawmakers look to stiffen penalties connected to opioid thefts

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the nation deals with wide-ranging impacts of the opioid crisis, a group of state lawmakers have proposed increasing punishments for people who break in to pharmacies with the goal of stealing opioids.

“We hope that if the penalty’s stiffer that it will be a deterrent,” said Jerry Cobb, staff pharmacist at Hayes Barton Pharmacy in Raleigh. “And, it’s just a logistical nightmare from a PR perspective to security, inventory concerns and money loss.”

Jay Campbell, executive director of the state’s Board of Pharmacy, says it’s become a growing concern in the industry.

“And, there has been an increase over the past four or five years, particularly, in the number of break-ins and robberies,” he said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency received a combined 1,905 federal reports of armed robberies and burglaries at pharmacies in 2014. That number increased to 2,090 in 2016.

A bill introduced by Republican state Reps. Wayne Sasser, Carson Smith, Gregory Murphy and Craig Horn would make it a class D felony to break in to or enter a pharmacy with the goal of stealing opioids. That comes with a sentence of 38 to 160 months in prison, or about three to 13 years. If approved, it would take effect Dec. 1.

Some experts who help patients with addiction recovery have criticized past efforts by state leaders to enhance criminal penalties, saying that won’t prevent substance abuse.  

The move comes as state lawmakers have approved various other measures to try to curb the rise in opioid addiction including: mandating better prescription monitoring; providing more funding for treatment and recovery; and making naloxone more widely available, which can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Since lawmakers returned to Raleigh in January, advocates for Medicaid expansion have lobbied legislators to approve that in North Carolina, saying it would be key to helping people get access to treatment who currently don’t. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) called again to expand Medicaid during his State of the State address Monday night. Republican House Speaker Tim Moore shot down that idea,  saying he doesn’t believe it’s “something that would enjoy much support in the General Assembly.” 

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