Pharmacy Robberies on the Rise, DEA Data Suggests


Preliminary 2015 data from the Drug Enforcement Administration reveals pharmacy robbers have hit Indiana the hardest.

Preliminary 2015 data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reveals pharmacy robbers have hit Indiana the hardest.

Pharmacies in the Hoosier State reported 34 robberies between January 1, 2015, and March 31, 2015, with California (16), Wisconsin (13), North Carolina (12) and South Carolina (10) following in tow. Nationally, 203 pharmacy robberies occurred in the first 3 months of the year.

If Indiana’s pharmacy robberies continue at the same pace for the rest of 2015, the state may reach a new record, surpassing California’s 94 pharmacy robberies in 2014.

Pharmacists should be aware that pharmacy robberies are on the rise. There were 829 total pharmacy robberies in 2014, with California leading the pack. That’s a 16% increase from the 713 total pharmacy robberies in 2013, the majority of which took place in Arizona.

California saw a 56% jump in pharmacy robberies between 2013 and 2014. Considering population differences between Indiana and California, however, the Hoosier State may be the worst for pharmacy robberies, according to Ken Fagerman, RPh, MM, author of Staring Down the Barrel: A Pharmacist’s Guide to Diversion and Coping with Robbery, who spoke with Pharmacy Times in an exclusive interview.

Fagerman developed a Pharmacy Crime Watch (PCW) in South Bend, Indiana, and worked collaboratively with local police to curtail pharmacy robberies in the community. While writing his book in 2012, Indiana once again had the most pharmacy robberies in the country, but South Bend reported none for the year—a success he credits to the PCW and police help.

Addressing Indiana’s pharmacy robbery problem, the DEA released a report in 2012 with prevention tactics and ways to help police solve robbery cases. The report noted 69% of pharmacy robberies are solved, while 23% remain unsolved, and 8% have a suspect but go unsolved.

The typical pharmacy robber is often a white male in his 20s or 30s who wears a hat, sunglasses, or some other material that covers his face. According to the DEA, the most common medications pharmacy robbers seek are opiates and benzodiazepines, oxymorphone, oxycodone, methadone, Percocet, Xanax, and Valium.

The majority of robbery cases involve a note given to pharmacy staff, and they often take place in less than 1 minute.

“The problem in Indiana is that these criminals can rob a pharmacy faster than you can take money out of an ATM,” Fagerman told Pharmacy Times.

While Fagerman agreed with the DEA that pharmacists should comply with a robber’s demands, especially since resistance “almost always ends badly,” he said some pharmacies’ policies make it too easy for criminals to rob them. Stores may be underprotected security-wise, and pharmacists may not have a plan in place for what to do in the event of a robbery. Large chains in particular seem to view robberies as only a minor business expense and almost a routine incident, Fagerman said.

“This ‘give them the drugs, get back to work’ attitude [contributes] to the ongoing problem in Indiana,” he said.

Fagerman described 1 pharmacy robbery in which a customer was waiting for her prescription to be filled and she saw what she thought was a courier waiting at the counter. The pharmacy staff handed over a sack, and a little while later, the police showed up. The customer had no idea the pharmacy had just been robbed.

This story contrasts greatly with another case where a pharmacist announced over the PA system, “Robbery in progress,” which led customers in the store to follow the thief out the door. Two customers jumped into the cars and followed the thief for a short distance to get information about his car and direction.

In another robbery, a pharmacist bluffed a thief by saying he was going to push a duress button, which caused the criminal to flee.

In addition to having a duress button, the DEA advises pharmacists to keep a few things in mind when confronted with a robber. The staff should observe the robber’s physical features, including race, height, weight, hair color, facial hair, piercings, and other identifying characteristics, such as whether he or she was left-handed.

After the robbery takes place, pharmacists should call the police, secure the demand note and any other items left behind by the robber, and avoid touching anything the robber may have put his or her fingerprints on.

One feature that pharmacies can install to help in a robbery situation is a height marker at the doors and back of the pharmacy to help track the robber’s height. In addition, cameras mounted at eye level instead of from above can help provide a more direct photo of the robber. Pharmacies may want to consider installing newer cameras, which offer clearer images than older cameras.

Another preventive move is to implement a store policy that prohibits hats, sunglasses, and hoods, and to have cashiers or security guards help enforce it.

Ultimately, Fagerman said, employers need to ensure pharmacists and their stores are prepared for robberies.

“Responsibility lies primarily with the employer—ensuring that they have a robust robbery program and that they have security elements in place that are warranted by the area and the number of incidents they have had,” he told Pharmacy Times.

Pharmacies may want to limit their stock, if possible, and invite police to do a security assessment. Fagerman said instituting a PCW, working collaboratively with the police, and communicating with other pharmacists can help curb the pharmacy robbery problem.

“Pharmacists need to be part of the plan,” Fagerman said. “You can make a difference.”

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