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Surprising Science

Tracking Drug Thieves With GPS-Equipped “Bait Bottles”

The New York Police Department announced today that it would begin distributing fake painkillers to pharmacies in one of several plans to stem a rising tide of prescription drug theft.

What’s the Latest Development?

On Tuesday the New York Police Department announced that it would begin giving area pharmacies placebo painkillers in “bait bottles” equipped with invisible GPS tracking devices. It was one of several plans, along with an education campaign targeting city schools and improved training of new police recruits, described at a conference sponsored by former President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Foundation. Deputy commissioner Paul Browne said the bait bottles were the equivalent of cash bags containing explosive dye packets: “Instead of anything exploding, a GPS signal would be sent off and we’d know where that person is.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The US Drug Enforcement Administration says that armed robberies of pharmacies have increased by 79% between 2006 and 2010 as more addicts and dealers seek powerful prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin, which has a street value of more than $80 per pill. Recent holdups in the New York City area resulted in the deaths of both thieves and victims. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that the GPS-equipped bottles could help lead police not just to the thief, but to stashes of hidden drugs. He also revealed the possibility of placing GPS devices directly on placebo tablets in the future.

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