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Pill Packs Could Trip Up Thieves

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Banks have dye packs to track stolen cash. Drivers have LoJacks to track stolen cars. Now Florida authorities may get a gadget to track stolen pain pills.

At the suggestion of state Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong, the state Board of Pharmacy agreed Tuesday to check out several devices that look like pill containers but are actually phonies, loaded with tiny signaling units that could help track drug thieves and abusers.

The phony pill containers have become the latest weapon against a rising number of pharmacy robberies across the country, especially by thieves targeting narcotic pain pills such as oxycodone, a favorite of narcotics abusers.

“I’ve seen one of these. It’s a pretty slick system,” Michael Jackson, executive vice president of the Florida Pharmacy Association, told the board at its meeting in Miami. “It’s a way of trying to deter crime.”

The model that Jackson described looks like a pill bottle but has a tiny transmitter at the bottom that begins sending out signals when it is removed from its cradle. Pharmacists being robbed could slip one of the phonies into the stolen drugs they give to thieves, or a unit could be placed on a shelf amid real drugs in case thieves grab them.

Armstrong, in his April 30 letter to the Board of Pharmacy, mentioned another version of the device. This one resembles a “blister pack” of pills that sends signals when someone pops each pill from its sealed chamber. Collected over time, the signals would tell authorities where each stolen pill was taken, he wrote.

Armstrong said the state Department of Health is studying whether to deploy the system in Florida, which has been a hotbed of illegal prescription drug diversion.

The pharmacy board also will look at a third system, which uses phony pill bottles bearing GPS chips. The decoy bottles were developed by Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, a brand of oxycodone. New York police are using the system. Maine has caught pill thieves using something similar, the U.S. Justice Department reports.

Among the biggest questions for Florida officials: whether to require that drugstores use the pill trackers and under what circumstances. Pharmacies would have to pay a fee to use the systems, which may make the idea unappealing to some, Jackson said.