Pharmacy Armed Robberies: The Silence Is Deafening


Pharmacy robberies are far from rare.

It was an otherwise normal, busy day at the Good Family Pharmacy in Pinch, West Virginia, when the "customer” with the bandana tied around his face came through the glass door last week. Suspicious of the individual, the pharmacist on duty was already drawing his own concealed weapon when the masked man pulled out a gun and demanded drugs.

Never in a million years did the crook anticipate what would happen in the next few seconds. The pharmacist, Don Radcliff, stepped out from behind the cover of his employee, skillfully aimed, and fatally shot the armed man.

We’ve all read about scenarios where the desperate, drug-seeking desperado just kills everyone in sight. But those of us who follow pharmacy crime news realize that there was also a million ways the decision to take down this 2-bit thief could have gone terribly wrong.

This event brings to the forefront the issue of armed pharmacy robberies, their frequency, and whether or not enough is being done to prevent them.

If you have been in retail pharmacy a long time, then you almost certainly know someone who has been closely involved with a pharmacy robbery. I have friends who have been held up both by knife and gun. Thankfully, neither was hurt in the incidents. But things don’t always turn out so well.

For example, remember the brutal slaying conducted by David Laffer on June 19, 2011, at Haven Drugs in Medford, New York? Laffer, who is now serving a life sentence, walked in with a gun and murdered the pharmacist, a high school employee, and 2 customers. He then ran out with multiple bottles of hydrocodone to escape in his car driven by his wife to his home at which he was eventually arrested.

Good statistics on the number of armed pharmacy robberies going on are hard to come by. Organizations like RxPatrol attempt to track robbery and burglary events, but reporting to them is voluntary, and thus likely underestimated. Just go to Google and type in any combination of the words “pharmacy” and “robbery” and see what comes up.

There have been some efforts made by individuals and institutions to get the word out about this problem. To my knowledge, pharmacist Ken Fagerman has written the only book on the subject of pharmacy robberies and theft, entitled Staring Down the Barrel. The Husson University School of Pharmacy has now offered a Pharmacy Robbery Prevention seminar for several years. This, combined with a few stray editorial pieces and local news clips, is about all that seems to be said.

It seems to me that the groups that should be the most vocal about this problem are strangely the most silent. Pharmacy schools, boards, and associations that pharmacists support through tuition, fees, and membership dues need to be more involved in speaking up and providing resources to educate professionals and the public about this issue.

When was the last time you went to a pharmacy continuing education conference and heard a speaker address the issue of pharmacy robberies and security? The silence, as they say, is deafening.

Could it be that more publicity about these events might provoke pharmacists to demand safer work environments from employers? Or that more news coverage of pharmacy robberies might expose the fact that our US drug problem can’t be solved by simply rescheduling medications and imposing purchase thresholds on pharmacies? Or that boards of pharmacy just don’t want to be bothered with this topic?

I hate to think any of those things, but sometimes I do think them. Sometimes, I even write about it.

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