Spike in Pharmacy Robberies Prompts NYT Exposé

Staying safe while continuing to serve patients was the subject of a recent report on pharmacy robbery.

“Outside hiring an armed guard to be in here 24/7, I don’t know what else to do,” pharmacist Chet Hibbard, RPh, told New York Times reporter Abby Goodnaugh.

Hibbard, owner of EW Moore & Son Pharmacy in Bingham, Maine, was one of several pharmacists quoted in Goodnaugh’s investigative report, “Pharmacies Besieged by Addicted Thieves.” The exposé paints a grim picture of pharmacy robbery in the United States, which Goodnaugh says has escalated in recent years.

It also highlights the first-hand accounts of pharmacists who are at a loss for how to cope with the increasing threat of armed robbery. According to Goodnaugh, more than 1800 pharmacy robberies have occurred in the past 3 years, with oxycodone, hydrocodone, and alprazolam being the most sought-after drugs.

She describes several frightening scenarios involving “brazen and desperate” robbers:

"In Rockland, Me., one wielded a machete as he leapt over a pharmacy counter to snatch the painkiller oxycodone, gulping some before he fled. In Satellite Beach, Fla., a robber threatened a pharmacist with a cordless drill last week, and in North Highlands, Calif., a holdup last summer led to a shootout that left a pharmacy worker dead."

Drug manufacturers, local and federal law enforcement officials, and pharmacists are working together to find new ways to prevent and react to pharmacy robberies. These include upgraded surveillance systems and added security measures, such as bulletproof glass, which, Goodnaugh notes, lend pharmacies “the aesthetic of an urban liquor store.”

Gleaning from conversations held during the course of her reporting, the author suggests these dire straights have the potential to hamper pharmacy recruitment and job retention. She quoted Washington prosecutor Dan Satterburg, who said pharmacists “feel very vulnerable when so many people are so desperate to get what they keep behind those counters.”

Despite these omens, a glimmer of hope remains for pharmacists who aren’t ready to throw in the towel. Several new security tools—in combination with close communication among law enforcement officials, pharmacy professionals, and pharmaceutical companies—show promise for ensuring the practice of pharmacy remains safe.

According to Pharmacy Times’ drug diversion expert Commander John Burke, some of these measures have already been rolled out. In his column “Rx Abuse 2011—Moving Forward,” he cites the development of abuse-resistant formulations—such as the one launched in 2010 for Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin—as an example of a successful preventive measure.

A 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, Cmdr Burke has witnessed the ability of abuse-resistant formulations to drive down demand for commonly abused and diverted drugs. “As of this writing, the popularity of OxyContin has slumped, along with it its street price,” he wrote.

Cmdr Burke’s column is published in the upcoming February 2011 Infectious Disease Issue of Pharmacy Times. For his continued coverage of this important issue, visit the following articles from past issues:

  • Drug Diversion—The Past 20 Years, Part 2 (January 2011)
  • Drug Diversion—The Past 20 Years, Part 1 (December 2010)
  • Reformulation of OxyContin: Will it Prevent Illicit Use? (November 2010)
  • Drug Diversion and Abuse: Keeping Pharmacies Safe (March 2010)

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Study Reveals Inconsistencies in Black Box Warnings
  • Flu Spreads Faster Through Same-Gender Friendships