10 Tips to Prevent a Pharmacy Robbery


Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) data indicate pharmacy robberies are on the rise.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) data indicate pharmacy robberies are on the rise.

Last year, there were 829 pharmacy robberies nationally—a 16% increase from the 713 reported in 2013. California alone saw a 56% spike in pharmacy robberies between 2013 and 2014, according to the DEA.

Since neither pharmacists nor patients want their pharmacy to be targeted, here are a few tips to prevent a robbery:

Know your audience.

The DEA has found that pharmacy robbers are often white men aged between 20 and 30 years. They may be wearing a hat, sunglasses, or some other form of covering over their face.

In other cases, the robber may be wearing a bizarre outfit. One man robbed a pharmacy with an orange traffic cone in hand while wearing a hardhat, reflective vest, and long, yellow rain jacket. Another man who was on a robbery spree in the San Francisco Bay area had been dressing up as a clown during each incident.

A 2011 Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Company (PMIC) pharmacy robbery report advised that the robber might not always be a stranger. The analysis indicated that, in a high percentage of cases, the individual had frequented the pharmacy at least 3 times before the crime.

Oxymorphone, oxycodone, methadone, Percocet, Xanax, and Valium are the most common drugs demanded by pharmacy robbers, according to the DEA.

Have a duress button.

The DEA recommends that pharmacists remain calm and comply with the robber’s demands when confronted. Pharmacists may discretely push a duress button while gathering the medications that the robber has requested.

In Staring Down the Barrel: A Pharmacist’s Guide to Diversion and Coping with Robbery, author Ken Fagerman, RPh, MM, described a situation where a pharmacist just threatened to use the duress button, and the robber fled.

Install cameras.

The jury is still out on whether video cameras deter individuals from robbing stores, but it probably does not hurt to install them. Cameras that are at eye-level, instead of mounted from above, can help obtain a better picture of the robber’s face.

Set up height markers.

Do as the banks do and put up height markers at the doors of the store and the pharmacy counter. Not only can they help law enforcement get a height estimate if a robbery does take place, but the sight of them can also discourage potential robbers from targeting the store.

Enforce story policy.

No hoods, no service. Implement a store policy forbidding headwear that can disguise a person’s appearance. Stores that can afford a security guard should ask him or her to enforce this rule, or have cashiers in the front of the store ask customers to remove these items.

6. Get help from the police.

The DEA’s Office of Diversion Control recommends that pharmacists invite local police to conduct security assessments at their store. Pharmacists may also benefit from learning officers’ names and inviting them to stop by the pharmacy from time to time.

Fagerman developed a Pharmacy Crime Watch (PCW) in South Bend, Indiana. While the state sat in the top spot for pharmacy robberies in 2012, his area saw none, which he credited to the collaboration among police, pharmacists, and the community through the PCW.

According to the 2013 pharmacy crime analysis from the PMIC, police respond to a call within 5 minutes in one-third of cases. Within this 5-minute window, police make an arrest in 21% of cases.

Therefore, if pharmacists can slow down the time it takes to gather the medications for the robber, police may have a better chance at intervening.

Lock up narcotics at night, and make sure there is adequate lighting.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short story called “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Take this title to heart and install security lights inside and outside the building.

Having narcotics locked up at night in a safe or in reinforced security cabinets may also prevent robbers from getting the goods.

Protect your windows and doors.

The 2015 PMIC crime report stated that more than half of pharmacy break-ins involve the perpetrator entering through the front of the store. Physical security gates for the windows and doors may make it harder for robbers to enter into the pharmacy.

The report also noted that aluminum frame doors may not be the best bet, as they can easily be pried open.

Have a good alarm system.

For robberies that occur after-hours, a good alarm system may stop a robber in his or her tracks.

PMIC advises that the alarm should sound both at the pharmacy and off-site, and it should be tested at least semi-annually.

PMIC also recommends that the system covers all areas of the store—even from above. In 6% of cases, robbers enter the store from the ceiling or through other empty occupancies surrounding the pharmacy, according to the 2011 report. Vibration sensors may help determine whether a robber is coming in from above or through a wall.

Recently, 2 hospital patients in Nebraska cut a hole in a wall behind the emergency room into the pharmacy to steal medications and money. In another incident, a man climbed to the roof of a pharmacy and headed into the store through the ceiling to steal thousands of dollars’ worth of oxymorphine, morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

Greet your customers.

The DEA’s Office of Diversion Control maintains that something as simple as greeting customers as they enter the pharmacy could discourage a robber. Showing attention could scare off a robber who is hoping to go undetected.

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