Proposed bill would toughen penalties for criminals who target pharmacies with intent to steal opioids

Published: Mar. 12, 2019 at 4:53 AM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - A former sheriff, a pharmacist and a doctor are all coming together to fight the opioid epidemic from the state house.

Former Pender County Sheriff Rep. Carson Smith, pharmacist and Rep. Wayne Sasser, and surgeon and Rep. Greg Murphy are the primary sponsors of House Bill 212 which proposes to increase the penalty for breaking and entering into a pharmacy with the intent to steal opioids.

Under current law, breaking and entering into any building with the intent of stealing is a Class H Felony, which carries between six months to two years of jail time.

“Myself and some other representatives just didn’t think that was enough to deter folks from wanting to break into pharmacies for the purpose of stealing opioids just to put them out on the street,” said Rep. Smith. "So what we’re proposing would make the breaking and entering and larceny or attempted larceny of opioids in a pharmacy a Class D.

Increasing the penalty to a Class D Felony would increase jail time to a 5-10 year sentence.

“We want to send a strong message to say ‘Hey, look. If you want to roll the dice, if you’re going to try to break into a pharmacy in North Carolina, if you get caught, when you get caught, you’re going to pay for it,’” Smith said.

Beth Caveness owns the Village Pharmacy in Hampstead, which was broken into three times in 2017. She said she would love to see the penalty increase.

“I think that guy would still be doing it if he weren’t sitting in jail, I have no doubt. He made a fortune off the drugs that he stole from us that he sold. Literally, a fortune. And who knows how many people he killed by handing those drugs out. So two years is a slap on the wrist. He needs a lot more than that for what he did to us and the community,” Caveness said.

She believes the only way to make a statement is to make the penalty harsher, which is what the sponsors of the bill intend to do.

“We think that’s going to help deter. Right now, the sentence I don’t think is enough from wanting someone to go into a pharmacy where they know opioids are and stealing them. When I was sheriff we had several pharmacies that were broken into. A lot of times we saw when we made arrests that they weren’t even people that lived near the pharmacy or in the same town. Sometimes they worked a whole region or several states going up and down just hitting pharmacies," Smith said.

So far, Smith said they have received positive comments on the bill and believes many think it is an important factor in fighting the opioid epidemic.

“I am able to bring my life experiences to the legislature just as two of the other sponsors on the bill. We’ve got a pharmacist and a doctor. Together we probably know the problem, see the problem, and can work through the problem better than most other folks up there in the legislature. So they kind of look on us for what we think should be done and this is what we’re proposing right now,” Smith said.

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