Auburn home invasion, armed robbery reveal drug's attractions and dangers

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The wake-up calls are jarring for Placer County communities when it comes to the spread of OxyContin abuse. In Rocklin, it was the morning when the letters on the high school’s welcome sign were removed to leave on “Welcome to OC” “OC” is one of the many nicknames the powerful painkiller has been given. In Granite Bay, it was the day a 20-year-old Folsom man walked into a Douglas Boulevard Walgreens, pulled out a gun and demanded only one thing – Oxycontin. He left the pharmacy with hundreds of pills. And in Auburn, the wake-up call came Friday – hammering home a warning in the form of a home invasion and armed robbery. The 56-year-old cancer patient who was robbed said two men in ski masks and black clothing demanded only pills and left with her bottle of doctor-prescribed OxyContin. As of Monday, Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn said the two were still at large. The Auburn robbery victim, who is not being identified because she is the victim of a violent crime, told the Journal on Friday that the pills that were stolen were 80 milligrams – the highest potency of OxyContin. The robbery is a reminder that foothills communities are not immune from the power and danger of OxyContin to both younger members of the community attracted to its mind-numbing high and residents who now must react to the accompanying fallout in crime and addiction that follow, a local expert said Monday. Kathie Sinor, who chairs the Coalition for Placer Youth’s “Rx” subcommittee, said that it’s unfortunate that crimes like the one Friday in a quiet Auburn neighborhood ever occur. But the Granite Bay High School health teacher said they do help shake communities awake to a problem that she has observed to be worsening, both as a member of the coalition and teacher. “We hope it’s enough to wake people up to dispose of their unused drugs and talk to their kids about the effect of these substances,” Sinor said. Sinor said that an innocent-enough visit by a grandchild to a grandparent, for instance, can turn into a threat for more OxyContin to spread onto the street. “While they may not have any teens of their own, they have grandkids,” she said. “When a grandkid realizes grandma has had a hip replacement, it’s also a realization that there could be OxyContin in grandma’s medicine cabinet.” One 80 milligram Oxycontin tablet sells for about $50 to $60 on the street, Sinor said. That’s more than 10 times the price a person with a prescription would pay. Depending on demand and the area they’re being sold in the price can go higher or lower for the now-illicit drug, she said.. Oxycontin or other drugs can disappear with a housekeeper, Sinor said. Or if a trusted child of a neighbor house-sits or cares for a pet, that child could bring a friend along who may be looking for pills to steal, she said. “They sell it and the crime goes on,” Sinor said. For users, pills are more available because of the greater access to medical care in middle-income areas, Sinor said. For teens, the stigma of pharma is not nearly as strong as it is for so-called hard drugs like heroin, Sinor said. Rocklin’s change in sign language is indicative of the accepting attitude many teens have to Oxycontin, she said. Robberies like the ones in Auburn and Granite Bay show the levels of risk people will go to get Oxycontin, she added. “People are getting it from a doctor – it’s not like the image of the heroin addict downtown,” Sinor said. “What they don’t realize is that OxyContin is heroin in a bottle.” OxyContin is a trade name for an addictive opiate prescribed for moderate to high pain relief for conditions ranging from arthritis and cancer pain to broken limbs. It’s used for post-operation recovery and pain relief after childbirth. One way for people to lessen the possibility of a robbery or theft is to peel the labels off pill bottles and destroy them after use with a criss-cross shredder, Ruffcorn said. That prevents anyone from rooting around in your garbage and finding out what type of prescriptions you might have, he said. “And the meds you take should be a privacy issue for only family and trusted confidantes,” Ruffcorn said. That includes conversations about physical conditions and medications out of public places, Ruffcorn said. “You should be cognizant of people hanging around a pharmacy,” he said. At Auburn Drug Co. in Downtown Auburn, co-owner Liz Briggs said that customers can be assured that no one searching in the pharmacy’s garbage will find information on prescriptions and who receives them. “We destroy all patient documentation,” Briggs said. Being a small pharmacy with a loyal following, Brigg’s said Auburn Drug Co. has customers who give patients at the pharmacy counter plenty of room and privacy. “And we don’t call out, ‘Your OxyContin is ready,’” Briggs said. “Some places have technicians who aren’t trained but we protect people’s privacy 100 percent.”