‘Pharmacy for the street’: Senior accused of trafficking prescription drugs

Saskatchewan Provincial Court in Prince Albert. -- Herald File Photo

A wheelchair-bound sixty-year-old woman allegedly operated a “pharmacy for the street,” in the words of a Crown prosecutor, who claims she trafficked prescription pain medication to drug users in Prince Albert.

Rosemary Zoerb was released on bail Thursday. She will go to trial this October on a 2015 trafficking charge and faces several other charges for allegedly trafficking hydromorphone, Ritalin and codeine this July.

According to Crown prosecutor Trent Forsyth, police conducted surveillance of Zoerb’s residence in September 2015, after receiving a tip from a confidential informant. They observed “several short duration meetings consistent with drug trafficking.”

Police eventually moved in to search Zoerb’s residence. Inside, Forsyth said, they found more than 150 pills of hydromorphone, a powerful narcotic. Some were allegedly packaged in baggies. Officers also allegedly found about 160 pills of gabapentin, a medication used to treat nerve pain and seizures. The gabapentin, Forsyth told the court, was housed in a safe.

Zoerb was charged and released on conditions the next day. But police got another confidential tip and reinitiated their surveillance of her residence. They allegedly saw more meetings and conducted another search last month. They found 154 hydromophone pills in separate small baggies, Forsyth said. They also allegedly found 71 codeine pills, 30 Ritalin pills and 37.3 grams of marijuana.

Forsyth said that Zoerb was “preying on people who are addicted” and driving a “never-ending” cycle of drug abuse and property crime.

“What we have here, in both September of 2015 and July of 2017, is a virtual pharmacy for the street,” he said.

“We all know what a scourge these street drugs are in the city of Prince Albert.”

But Zoerb’s lawyer, Allicia Hunter, argued that her client should be released on bail and put on curfew at her uncle’s house. She noted that, so far, Zoerb does not have a criminal record. She admitted that the drugs, as well as a scale and baggies, were found in her client’s house. But that doesn’t prove Zoerb was trafficking, Hunter argued.

“Is she trafficking her prescription medication or does she just have prescription medication in the house?” she asked.

Hunter also argued there was nothing suspicious about the high quantity of medication in Zoerb’s possession. She said her client’s prescription allowed her to pick up 190, or even 270, hydromophone pills at a time.

She also challenged the credibility of two Crown witnesses who said Zoerb provided them with drugs.

“I think we need to take what they say with a grain of salt,” she said. “They are drug users; they admit that.”

Judge H.M. Harradence said the Crown had presented strong evidence to support the charge.

“The quantity of the drugs and the way they were stored in both incidents leads to a fairly strong inference that she’s involved drug trafficking,” he said.

But he noted that Zoerb is presumed innocent, and ordered her released on $800 cash bail. She will be placed on a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and cannot possess any drugs – except those prescribed to her by a medical doctor.