AUBURN – A former Rite Aid pharmacist has denied charges that he peddled painkillers from the drugstore to people without prescriptions.

Robert Holcomb Jr., 24, of Sabattus pleaded innocent in 8th District Court in Lewiston Wednesday to four counts of aggravated drug furnishing. He is expected to remain free on bail until a future court hearing.

When he was arrested by drug agents in late March, Holcomb claimed he doled out the painkiller Vicodin because he felt bad for people who are addicted, an investigator said.

“We got information that addicts were coming into the store and getting drugs without prescriptions,” Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Supervisor Gerry Baril said the night of the arrest. “They would put an empty drug bottle on the counter and this pharmacist would fill it.” Police said Holcomb was illegally dispensing 5 to 7 milligram dosages of Vicodin from the Union Street pharmacy. It was when one of those customers was taken to the hospital from an overdose that the investigation began. “It was a near-fatal overdose,” Baril said. “And we were able to work with that recovering addict as part of the investigation.”

Agents from the MDEA and other departments worked on the case for roughly a week before the Rite Aid was raided.

According to a police affidavit released Wednesday, undercover agents observed Holcomb as he handed vials of Vicodin to a confidential informant who had no prescription. The informant was secretly wired to record conversations with Holcomb, according to police reports.

Police and drug agents approached Holcomb at the pharmacy counter in the early evening March 31. He was questioned for about a half hour before he was led out of the store in handcuffs. Inspectors from the state’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation examined the inventory of medication at the Rite Aid following the raid. Investigators said thousands of pills, including Vicodin and other painkillers, were missing from the stock.

Investigators said they are meeting with state and federal officials to determine at which level the case should be prosecuted.

At the time of his arrest, Holcomb listed an address of 50 Timberlake Road in Sabattus. He is originally from Binghamton, N.Y., and went to school in that state.

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