Prescription drug store robberies have reached an epidemic level in Maine. The 23rd pharmacy hold-up occurred a few blocks from the State House in Augusta when a man demanded the narcotic pain reliever Oxycontin from the CVS pharmacist and told her: “I have a gun, you have 60 seconds until my partner comes in shooting.”

Though no one has gotten hurt in the drug store heists, Public Safety Commissioner John Morris is concerned about the frequency of the robberies and the boldness of the drug store bandits who have used knives, machetes and guns to demand opiates. Maine’s drug store thefts have increased from two in 2008 to 24 in 2011. In addition to the threat of someone getting hurt in the holdups, prescription drug overdoses are now claiming more lives than car accidents.

Earlier this year, Gov. Paul LePage created a Prescription Drug Task Force, and the 17-member committee has been working to improve the state’s prescription monitoring program, which tracks offenders who doctor shop to garner multiple prescriptions. The task force also seeks to expand a database for doctors to alert them about patients with a history of drug arrests or convictions.

While the task force works on a final round of recommendations, they need help. Most drug abusers get their pills from the medicine cabinets of friends or family. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has collected six tons of unwanted and outdated prescription drugs in previous take-back programs in Maine. But law enforcement officials know there are many more prescriptions that need to be disposed of before they are stolen or abused.

Robbers who once broke into homes stealing televisions or computers are now heading straight to the homeowner’s medicine cabinet, searching for pills that can be sold for $80 to $100 on the street.

While the task force would like to see more prescription take-back programs in Maine, they are costly, and at the moment there are no state or federal funds available. But there are alternatives. The task force has compiled a list and map of the 51 police departments that will take unwanted prescription drugs and destroy them.

For information visit or contact the Maine Attorney General’s Office at 626-8800.

Do your part to curb Maine’s growing prescription drug crisis. Clean out your medicine cabinet and urge your neighbors, friends and family to do the same. Organize a trip to the nearest police department drop-off before your old drugs are stolen in a break-in or abused by a family or friend.