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Florida drugstores fight out-of-state trafficking

FORT LAUDERDALE — Ever since P.S. Drugs posted notice it will no longer fill certain prescriptions for out-of-state visitors, the staff has seen a daily procession of would-be customers arrive at the door, then turn around and leave.

Business has dropped about 20 percent in the past month or so, but Bruce Derby, manager of the Fort Lauderdale pharmacy, said that’s OK. He wants nothing to do with the prescription pill traffickers who come to Florida from other states to buy oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, alprazolam and other addictive pills they can resell back home for a profit.

Some of South Florida’s other independent pharmacies have adopted similar policies in recent weeks, according to store managers contacted by the Sun Sentinel, as well as local authorities.

Pill traffickers favor the independent stores over chains such as CVS and Walgreens because the small shops don’t tend to record and scrutinize prescriptions as closely.

New state legislation has heightened awareness of the scourge of prescription drug abuse. Proprietors of the independent pharmacies think they have the support of the public and law enforcement.

“It’s about having a feeling of comfort about not filling those prescriptions,” Derby said. “They still come in, but we just tell them, ‘Sorry, we don’t do that anymore.’ ”

Authorities said they are working closer with many independent pharmacies to share information and identify pill traffickers.

“The mom-and-pops are doing a better job of cooperating with law enforcement,” said narcotics agent Robert Banuchi, of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

The Florida-only ID rule observed at more local pharmacies is a trend authorities hope will spread in South Florida. The region remains a hotbed of prescription drug abuse and pill trafficking despite the new state law aimed at stopping the practices. It’s expected to take years for the law’s main components, including a prescription monitoring program, to take effect.

Despite the new measures, authorities said there’s still not much to stop Florida residents from fraudulently acquiring pills from the pharmacies and flooding the local black market.

Some out-of-state traffickers already have found ways around the change in sales practices, said Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Richard Pisanti.

“The caveat is that with a valid ID . . . they can go to a Florida driver’s license office and get a Florida ID that same day,” he said.

In addition, pill seekers still have the option of visiting pain clinics that dispense pills on site.

Several pharmacies that have adopted policies to bar out-of-state residents from buying some medicines are leaving themselves some wiggle room so they don’t turn away legitimate patients, such as winter residents and tourists.

“It depends on the circumstances,” said William Barnhart, a manager at Linton Square Pharmacy, a Delray Beach, Fla., business that has had its share of fraudulent prescriptions. More than two dozen are displayed in a glass case by the store’s cash register, some of them marked “forgery” or “forged.”

But there are some independent pharmacies that authorities suspect won’t adopt more restrictive sales practices. Some of them hire bouncers to keep a lookout for undercover investigators and control traffic in and out, so as to not attract attention, authorities said.

For other shops, it’s about surviving and trying to compete with the big national chains.

“A lot of the mom-and-pop pharmacies, the only way they’re surviving is by putting out oxycodone,” Pisanti said.

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