By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York police will begin asking city pharmacies to stock decoy bottles fitted with GPS devices among powerful painkillers like Oxycontin and oxycodone in the latest bid to combat gunpoint robberies of drug stores.
Police hope that in the event of a robbery, the 'bait bottles', which will be labeled as painkillers but filled with harmless placebos, will lead them back to large stocks of stolen prescription drugs.
Last year, federal and New York Police Department investigators seized 9,000 painkillers being sold at an open-air drug market in northern Manhattan.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is expected to unveil the new initiative, called ‘Operation Safety Cap,' at a conference in California on Tuesday sponsored by former president Bill Clinton's foundation. An advance copy of his prepared remarks was released late Monday.
The initiative follows last week's announcement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the city's public hospitals will begin restricting emergency room patients to a three-day supply of opioid painkillers to limit abuse - since most addicts get their pills from family and friends who have leftover supplies from legitimate prescriptions, experts say.
Oxycontin is a long-acting form of the opioid oxycodone, a highly-addictive prescription drug.
The NYPD's initiative is a response to a growing black market of stolen prescription painkillers.
In 2011, a 33-year-old military veteran with no prior criminal record fatally shot four people while robbing a Long Island pharmacy of about 10,000 pain pills.
"The gunman in that case ... was desperate to obtain prescription drugs to feed both his and his wife's painkiller habit," said Kelly in a prepared statement to be delivered later Tuesday.
Even the police force itself has been haunted by prescription drug abuse.
"One of our own retired police officers who became addicted to the pills after incurring an injury on the job began robbing drug stores at gunpoint," Kelly said in the statement.
In addition to the ‘bait bottle' program, New York police have created a database of the 6,000 pharmacies in the New York City area, many of which police plan to visit to recommend improved security measures.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Nick Zieminski)