QUINCY, Mass. -- Citing danger to its customers and employees, the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. here pulled the controversial painkiller OxyContin from all 226 of its pharmacies, said John Fegan, vice president, pharmacy.
A string of supermarket and drug store robberies throughout the country in the last several months prompted the action. "There's too much of a chance for potential harm to shoppers and our pharmacy teams," said Fegan.
Stop & Shop recently notified customers who take OxyContin for chronic conditions that pharmacists can obtain the drug upon request within 36 to 48 hours, he said. This is similar to a policy enacted by Shaw's Supermarkets, West Bridgewater, Mass., earlier this year.
Three Stop & Shop stores were victims of OxyContin-related robberies during December and January, according to a published report. Drug addicts' ability to crush the pills to bypass their time-release mechanisms and obtain a heroin-like high through snorting or injecting the medication has propelled OxyContin's demand.
The best way to abate robberies is to dry up the source, Fegan said. "The only way to do that is limit your supply," he said. "We have customers and associates to protect, and we don't want to put anyone in harm's way."
Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn.-based manufacturer of OxyContin, told SN that the rash of robberies has been "a sad situation." The drug producer is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on formulations of OxyContin with other chemicals that would reduce its appeal to addicts.
"We've invested $100 million in that activity alone," said Robin Hogen, spokesman for Purdue Pharma. "It's our top priority, and we're committed to developing abuse-resistant medication." However, the development of new formulations for OxyContin is in its early, experimental stages and availability is "years away," he said.
In a prepared statement, the manufacturer said it "plans to meet with executives at Stop & Shop to explore potential solutions to this problem."
The Massachusetts State Board of Pharmacy has been concerned in the past about other retailers, like Shaw's, that have instituted a waiting period for the drug. Fegan said Stop & Shop will "leave it up to the professional decision of our pharmacists to make sure they best serve our customers."