Been following the story about Dave Laffer, the 33-year-old guy who last week shot four people and robbed 11,000 Vicodin tablets from a Long Island mom-and-pop pharmacy. First saw the story in the New York Daily News, at my own pharmacy, where I stopped in last week for some snacks.

Apparently Laffer’s girlfriend, who was also arrested, was an addict too. The Daily News story says she told police Laffer committed the crimes because she was “sick.” (Dope-sick? Mentally ill? The story doesn’t say)

The Daily News says police identified Laffer because he repeatedly bought painkillers and also owned a gun like the one used in the murders of the pharmacist, the pharmacy assistant (a high-school girl), and two customers.

The murders, in all their grisliness, were caught on surveillance tape and understandably have outraged the families of those killed and people in the community.

Mugshot of Dave Laffer, suspect in Long Island pharmacy robbery-murders.

Here is a photo of Laffer after his arrest. He was also charged with resisting arrest. They obviously beat the sh*t out of him.


The number of armed pharmacy robberies is apparently increasing across the country. According to the Associated Press, California had 61 in 2010, New York’s robberies increased from 2 in 2006 to 28 last year, and there were 65 in Florida, the pill-mill capital.

Robbers are stealing oxycodone and hydrocodone preparations—Percocet, Oxycontin, Roxicodone, Vicodin, Norco, and others.

Last week the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) released a report showing admissions to treatment programs for opioid abuse quadrupled from 1999 to 2009 (the most recent year for which figures are available).

The report said opioid-addiction admissions made up 33 percent of all treatment admissions in 2009, up from 8 percent in 1999.

A USAToday story quoted Lynn Webster, director-at-large for the American Academy of Pain Medicine, as saying the prescription drug abuse problem began 10 years ago when doctors began treating chronic nonmalignant pain with opioids, seeing them as safe and effective solutions to the problem of inadequately treated chronic pain. “We were naïve as clinicians,” she was reported as saying.

In the wake of the Long Island drugstore murders, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is comparing prescription opioid addiction to the 1980s and 1990s crack problem. According to the AP, he’s proposing legislation that would

  1. limit the number of prescriptions doctors can write for opioids
  2. increase prison sentences for prescription drug theft
  3. require better training for doctors before prescribing opioid drugs, to “help doctors better identify patients vulnerable to addiction”

The last one is pretty good. Doctors who prescribe opioid drugs ought to know about addiction. Because a certain percentage of the population, when exposed to drugs like this, will become addicted—in a lot of cases it’s just a matter of odds, of activating a biological predisposition.

But the bill needs to go further. If doctors are going to prescribe drugs that can cause addiction, they need to be able not only to identify patients who are vulnerable to addiction—people with addiction in their families, people who have used addictive substances (including nicotine). Doctors also need to be able to learn how to treat patients who have both pain and addiction.

Having addiction should not disqualify a person from getting pain treatment.

If Schumer’s goal is to “screen out addicts,” then this just adds to the stigma of addiction and prevents people from getting the help they need—for both their addiction and their pain.