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Bill would require some drugs to be locked

Paul Larocco

A proposed law would require pharmacies in Suffolk County to store their strongest prescription pills in locked, immovable cabinets or face fines.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), introduced the bill in response to Long Island drugstore robberies last year, including two that turned fatal. The bill is set for public hearing at Tuesday's legislature meeting, and could be approved next month.

State law requires that pharmacies keep controlled substances secured and safeguarded, but unlike for hospitals and nursing homes, provides little additional direction.

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"There seemed to be a loophole when you looked at community pharmacies," said Spencer, a physician. "I wanted to make sure that when we say 'secure and safe,' it was something that couldn't be easily removed or tampered with."

Suffolk's law would require pharmacies to store certain state-defined controlled substances in "stationary [key] locked double cabinets." County health officials would review complaints, but otherwise only require an annual letter from the businesses stating their compliance.

Initial violations would bring a $500 civil fine.

Pharmacists said locking up the painkillers that addicts and criminals most commonly seek out makes sense, and that most stores already do so.

"But whether there has to be a law, I don't know," said Michael Hushin, who runs Lakeland Pharmacy in Ronkonkoma. "It probably isn't going to stop anything from happening. If someone comes in, they're going to force you to open it one way or another."

In January, County Executive Steve Bellone announced a pharmacy safety initiative that includes training druggists to spot fraudulent prescriptions and promoting safe disposal of unwanted medications. Bellone said Monday that he supports Spencer's measure.

"Prescription drug abuse is a public health crisis that we must address at all levels of government," he said.

Tuesday night's, lawmakers will also consider final approval of bills that would:

Scrap a nonpartisan redistricting commission and allow county legislators to take over the redrawing of their district lines

Pause new open-space assessments and purchase offers for 90 days as officials prioritize the most environmentally sensitive parcels. Ban county sewage treatment plants from accepting wastewater from the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, which has yet to be approved in New York.