PORTLAND — harmacy robberies in Maine more than doubled last year over 2011, and police are concerned the robberies are becoming more brazen.
There were 56 pharmacy robberies last year, with drug addicts taking increasingly desperate measures, said Steve McCausland of the Department of Public Safety. In one instance, a man robbed a pharmacy inside a Wal-Mart filled with customers in broad daylight.
“These are desperate acts by desperate people, and from a law enforcement perspective it’s extremely troubling because of potential violence,” McCausland said.
The troubling trend that led a national pharmacy chain to post armed security guards and the establishment of a state panel to identify solutions came in a year that otherwise was relatively safe, McCausland said.
— The number of homicides for the year stood at 22, slightly below the 10-year average. Several, including a triple homicide in which the victims were left in a burning car in Bangor, were drug-related, police said.
— The number of fire deaths stood at 19, down from 23 in 2011 but far below the average of nearly 50 a year during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There were no working smoke detectors in homes that caught fire in Orrington, where a father and three children died in November, or in Orono, where two brothers died Dec. 23, officials said.
— The number of highway deaths, 164, was below the 10-year average of 176 and far below the worst year in Maine history, 1970, when 276 people died on Maine roads. But it was up from the 136 fatalities last year, the safest year since 1959.
People who were robbing pharmacies at a rate of more than one per week last year were seeking narcotics for the most part. Common targets were oxycodone, the key ingredient in the painkiller OxyContin, and hydrocodone, the ingredient in painkiller Vicodin and Xanax, a drug used to treat anxiety and panic attacks.
There were no deaths or injuries during the robberies, but police fear that could change as drug addicts, sometimes armed, become increasingly erratic.
In Bangor, a man charged with several pharmacy robberies was nabbed after driving his car onto a golf course; in Augusta, a man demanded prescription drugs at a pharmacy before barricading himself inside a bathroom and claiming he had explosive chemicals; and in Pittsfield, a bandit left empty-handed after a fed up Pittsfield pharmacist refused to hand over drugs.
Police said roughly 70 percent of the robberies resulted in arrests, McCausland said.
“If you rob a pharmacy, you’re going to get caught and you’re going to jail for a long time,” he said.