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Prescription drug thefts rising

Someone else's drug use put Michelle "Micki" Graskey in unbearable pain and caused her to suffer nausea three times. "It was horrible," the Solon Springs woman said. Each time, it happened because her prescription pain pills had been swiped. The ...

Someone else's drug use put Michelle "Micki" Graskey in unbearable pain and caused her to suffer nausea three times.

"It was horrible," the Solon Springs woman said.

Each time, it happened because her prescription pain pills had been swiped. The oxycontin and hydrocodone Graskey needs are tightly controlled narcotic drugs.

"They won't give you more," she said, even if the drugs are reported stolen.

Prescription drug thefts have been an issue in the Solon Springs area for years, according to Solon Springs Police Officer Jerry Olson. And the number of reports have been growing over the past year.

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"It was a major problem out here," Olson said.

It is also an underreported problem.

"There's no doubt in my mind" that other people have been affected, the officer said.

But most residents were unaware of the thefts.

"I didn't know until it happened to us," said Lauri Thorssen of Solon Springs.

While Thorssen and her family were out of town one June weekend, 20 of her 6-year-old son's Focalin pills disappeared. The drug, used to treat ADHD, is a stimulant.

"I was shocked," she said. "How could they be gone?"

Thorssen grilled her children, mentally reviewed her steps and checked if the pharmacy had filled the prescription correctly. She came to the conclusion the pills had been stolen and filed a report.

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Even then, she said, "I couldn't get my son new meds."

Her family doctor, however, helped by providing free trial drugs to cover the lapse.

A bold operation

The thefts are bold.

Patty Cosgrove was in her basement doing laundry when someone walked into her Solon Springs home and stole a bottle of 100 pain pills. They had been prescribed for her husband, Pat, following back surgery three years ago.

"I went to get his medication and it was gone," she said.

Yet she hadn't heard the family's German Shepherd bark to alert them to an intruder.

Another time, a partial bottle of pills was taken from the Cosgrove home.

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The thefts fit the same pattern, Olson said. There is no sign of forced entry. Drugs are taken, but the cash sitting beside them is not. The timing and amounts appear to be random.

"There's no rhyme or reason," Olson said, but the average theft is 10 to 12 pills at a time.

With only a few pills going missing at a time, the officer said, "it was definitely hard to pick up on."

The sting

Graskey said she suffered the first time in March because her prescription was a number of pills short. After that, pills began disappearing in random amounts at random times.

"Sometimes just a couple, just a few," she said. "I think, 'Why didn't I notice it?'"

One day, an entire bottle of pills went missing. Graskey first thought she had accidentally taken them out with the trash.

Olson had been keeping watch on homes that had been hit on a somewhat regular basis. He contacted the Graskeys and asked if he could put a surveillance camera in their home. The camera, provided by the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations, was installed Aug. 3.

On Aug. 4, Carrie Ann Hammond of Solon Springs was taped taking pills out of the Graskeys' bathroom medicine cabinet, according to a criminal complaint filed in Douglas County Court. The 27-year-old faces one felony charge of burglary. She pleaded not guilty to the charge Friday. An offer is pending on the case, according to the Clerk of Courts office, and a status conference is set for Nov. 7.

Hammond is not charged with any of the other burglaries, although the criminal complaint states that several bottles of medicine with the labels torn off were found at Hammond's residence.

The aftermath

The prescription drug thief or thieves stole more than pills from their victims. They stole peace of mind.

"I'm an absolute nervous wreck," Graskey said last week. "Your home is your sanctuary. It feels like I've been so violated."

The lifelong Solon Springs resident said she has always enjoyed living in a small town.

"You could trust people around you," she said. But now, "it just went away."

For the Cosgroves, the thefts changed their habits.

"We lock up all the time," Cosgrove said. "In a little town like this, you shouldn't have to do that."

Thorssen does the same.

"It's pretty sad to have to lock your door all the time," she said.

She also expressed anger that someone could steal needed medications from a small boy.

"I feel for bad for the person who has that kind of addiction," Thorssen said. "They need help. But I wish they weren't in my house."

As for Graskey, she keeps her meds under lock and key.

"Right now they're hidden so well, I can barely find them," she said.

Taking action

All three women said they hope more victims will come forward.

Olson also urged anyone who has been a victim of prescription drug theft to report it to law enforcement.

A police report doesn't guarantee a prescription refill, said Dianne Witten, retail pharmacy manager for Duluth Clinic pharmacies.

"Our pharmacy doesn't refill prescriptions early unless the physician OKs it," she said. And, she warned, most insurance companies don't pay for a new prescription if the original is stolen or lost.

She encourages reporting thefts, as well.

"A lot of times we do recommend they call police if they haven't," Witten said.

Graskey hopes that if word spreads about the thefts, people will be more cautious.

"We were all stunned that it was happening," she said, and that it had been going on for so long.

"I want people to know."

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail mlockwood@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5025.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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