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Documents: Prescription drug addictions lead to pharmacy robberies

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Nico Savidge
September 19, 2013

JANESVILLE—Just after 5:30 Tuesday morning, Kyler Willing pulled on a jacket and hood, covered his face with a camouflage bandana and stuck a shotgun down the front of his pants, police said.

Then, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday, Willing walked into a Walgreens on Milton Avenue in Janesville and handed the pharmacist a note.

“I need oxycottin, oxycodone, morphine,” it read, according to police. “Do not hit the panic alarm, do not call the police, no one will get hurt, thank you for your cooperation.”

Willing opened his coat so the woman could see the gun, police said, and made off with thousands of dollars worth of drugs.

It was the second time in the past year the Walgreens store had been robbed for the painkillers behind its pharmacy counter, according to court documents, and the second time a robber did so because he was hooked on those drugs.

It's no secret drug addiction is at the root of many crimes in Rock County.

Whether from addicts breaking into homes to steal electronics and jewelry or people reporting their medication stolen so they can get more of it, Janesville Police Chief David Moore has said drugs are a chief driver of the city's property crimes.

Much of the spotlight is on people committing crimes to get illegal drugs such as heroin. But a number of crimes are driven by people's dependence on prescription medication—addictions that might have begun with legitimate prescriptions.

LEGAL, BUT NOT ALWAYS SAFE

Even if they are prescribed for a medical condition, drugs such as the oxycodone Willing demanded could prove habit-forming, said Heidi Wood, a substance abuse counselor at Mercy Options.

“That's one of the big misconceptions with people: that these are safe medications,” Wood said. “It's very easy for people to become addicted to them.”

Addiction to prescription drugs also can lead people to use illegal drugs, police say, as they seek a cheaper high.

Willing, 25, of 1147 N. Emerald Grove Road, Janesville, told police he had been in a car accident in 2007, leaving him with three cracked vertebrae in his neck, according to the complaint.

He treated his pain with narcotic drugs, Willing told police, and was in pain the morning he robbed Walgreens.

A Janesville police officer spotted Willing outside the same pharmacy less than 24 hours later and arrested him after noticing he fit the description from the previous night's robbery, according to the complaint.

Willing had the loaded shotgun in his pants and a note in his car demanding more prescription drugs when he was arrested, authorities said.

Once someone becomes addicted to a medication, the chemistry in his or her body changes, Wood said. Addicts actually are thinking with a different portion of their brain, she said, which means they might not consider the consequences of their actions or think logically about what they're doing.

“What ultimately happens is your brain gets hijacked,” Wood said. “Once the addiction takes over, that logic portion goes out.”

SIMILAR MOTIVES, SIMILAR STRATEGIES

Willing is accused of using a tactic similar to the one 36-year-old Tony D. Taylor of Delavan used during a string of pharmacy robberies around southern Wisconsin—including one at the Milton Avenue Walgreens in December 2012, police said.

Both men are accused of slipping threatening notes to pharmacists and escaping with large amounts of pain medication, a strategy Janesville police Lt. Keith Lawver said the department has seen more of recently.

“It's definitely a concern for us,” Lawver said.

Whereas burglaries and thefts require an addict to sell off property and then buy drugs, Lawver said robbing pharmacies could be a way to cut a few steps out of that process and get drugs quicker.

For Mark Johnson, chief pharmacist and owner of Kealey Pharmacy in downtown Janesville, the prospect of bring robbed for drugs has concerned him for a while.

“The drugs are more important to them than the cash,” Johnson said of addicts.

He talks with employees every week about what to do in a robbery and regularly works with police to stop fraud or report suspicious people.

“It's been getting worse, rather than getting better,” Johnson said.

Taylor was arrested in DeForest after he tried to steal drugs from a pharmacy there in April, police said. He told authorities his addiction motivated him to rob the stores.

A federal grand jury indicted Taylor for nine Dane County robberies later that month, and he pleaded guilty in July to one count as part of an agreement that saw the other charges dropped. Taylor will be sentenced Thursday, Sept. 26.

Rock County prosecutors also have filed five charges of felony robbery with the threat of force against Taylor, though that case has not moved forward because of his federal charges.

Willing made his initial appearance in Rock County Court on Wednesday from the Rock County Jail. He has been charged with armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, carrying a concealed weapon and two counts of misdemeanor theft.

Court Commissioner Stephen Meyer set his bond at $11,500 and scheduled him for another court appearance next week.



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