/publications/issue/2010/March2010/DrugDiversionandAbuse-0310

Drug Diversion and Abuse: Keeping Pharmacies Safe

Author: Cmdr John Burke

John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement. Cmdr Burke also is the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.


Although this column has addressed pharmacy robberies and burglaries in the past, it seems that periodic reminders may be important. These crimes do not appear to be going away any time soon—and especially with robberies, they represent a significant threat to the safety and wellbeing of pharmacy employees.

A pharmacy robbery is when an individual(s) comes into your pharmacy with a weapon, or the threat of a weapon, demanding controlled substances. As I have commented many times before in this column, this individual is potentially very dangerous, and you as a pharmacy employee need to be extremely careful as to how you deal with the demands. The suggestion is that you always give this individual whatever drugs or money he or she is demanding to reduce the risk of some form of violence occurring. Your safety is paramount.

That being said, while you are dealing with the perpetrator, you need to try to have the presence of mind to take notice of sex, race, height, weight, hair color and style, and, of course, clothing or anything that makes this individual stand out when police are trying to find him or her. Initially this description is going to be broadcast to officers in the field who have the best chance of catching the individual in the first few minutes after the robbery. Providing an accurate description is invaluable in trying to apprehend this individual quickly. If you have the opportunity to see which direction the suspect fled, or if he or she entered a vehicle, some description of the car can also be extremely important. Jeopardizing your safety in trying to get a license number is not recommended, however.

Prevention is the best course of action to prevent pharmacy robberies. If you have a surveillance camera system, make sure this fact is prominently displayed on the front door, and also make sure that the cameras are working and recording as intended. Although it will not prevent the first robbery, marking bottles of the most popular controlled substances on the bottom with some kind of identifying mark can be extraordinarily important when law enforcement encounters suspects in possession of these bottles. The goal is that if the robbery cannot be prevented, perhaps police can catch the individual responsible and undoubtedly prevent future pharmacy crimes.

Pharmacy burglary, a nighttime entry into your pharmacy, is also very popular with organized criminal elements. Providing law enforcement with as much of a lighted view of the inside of your pharmacy is one component, but obviously having an alarm system is imperative. Along with that alarm, make sure you spend the extra monthly fee to have a back-up cell phone feature. Burglars commonly cut phone lines and then wait to see if the police arrive. If they do not, then they realize that no cell phone back-up exists, and entry will likely go undetected by law enforcement.

If you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of a pharmacy robbery or burglary, make sure you report it to Rx Pattern Analysis Tracking Robberies & Other Losses (RxPatrol), in addition to your local police. Funded by Purdue Pharma, RxPatrol provides a national database for law enforcement to report these crimes and hopefully direct them to like or similar offenses. Either you or the officer you report the offense to can make this report at www.rxpatrol.org.

Take time to think about how you will respond during a pharmacy crime, and discuss it with your coworkers. Discussing the scenario, with safety being utmost on your mind, is a good way not to make a bad situation even worse. ■