Pharmacy Robbery Upswing Is Alarming

Pharmacy TimesAugust 2015 Pain Awareness
Volume 81
Issue 8

The results of recent reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration indicate that pharmacy robberies increased significantly between 2014 and 2015.

The results of recent reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration indicate that pharmacy robberies increased significantly between 2014 and 2015. In the first 5 months of 2015, pharmacy robberies occurred at an average rate of 76.4 per month compared with 69.16 in the first 5 months of 2014.

Indiana, the state of my birth, unfortunately leads the way among the top 20 states for pharmacy robberies. I found this somewhat dubious, however, with the huge upsurge in heroin abuse due to its easy availability and low prices. Are these robberies up because more people are abusing prescription drugs or because heroin addicts either cannot afford or obtain their drug of choice? If so, are the prescription drugs being consumed by the perpetrator of the robbery or sold or bartered for heroin?

I am not certain anyone knows the answers for sure right now. Regardless, there is an obvious opioid abuse issue in our country and it is tied to pharmaceuticals and heroin. Pharmacy robberies are especially concerning because of the danger to pharmacy employees and customers: although the vast majority of pharmacy robberies are committed without injury to employees or customers, the ones that have occurred over the past few years are true tragedies indeed.

The extensive use of cameras and alarm systems do not seem to deter would-be robbers if their addiction has driven them to take such drastic steps to obtain their drugs. Omaha, Nebraska, had 5 CVS pharmacies robbed in the months of May and June, and it appears from the surveillance tape that the same person may be involved in all of them. The suspect passed a note to the pharmacy employee telling them he had a gun, although no firearm is ever shown. His goal is to obtain oxycodone tablets; my guess is the current favorite, oxycodone IR 30 mg, which has seemingly been the prescription drug of choice since the reformulation of OxyContin.

All retail pharmacists should maintain their vigilance in and around their stores, and report suspicious activity to their local law enforcement agency. If the pharmacy’s local jurisdiction has a law enforcement agency that will visit your store and give you tips on how to prevent a robbery, please take advantage of it. If not, request that someone from the department come by and take a look at the pharmacy’s prevention efforts.

It is just as important is to have a plan for what you and your employees are going to do if a robbery does occur. The first order of business is to stay safe! Complying with someone who has a firearm just makes good sense. No drugs or money are worth your life or someone else’s in the store, so plan on giving the robber what he or she wants and getting them out of the pharmacy.

Of course, that does not mean you don’t do all you can to take note of the physical appearance and demeanor of the suspect; having those typical height tapes inside the pharmacy can help gauge the person’s height. If the pharmacy is elevated, however, you may need to have the tape on the front door so when he or she exits, an approximate height can be determined.

Other policies of the store will need to be adhered to as some do not allow for an alarm to be activated until the suspect leaves. This is done to try to prevent a hostage situation or barricaded person inside your store. Work with law enforcement and see what protocol you can work out with them. Once you activate a hold-up alarm, there can be time lapses until the incident is reported to law enforcement, lapses that allow valuable time to pass and give the criminal a head start that minimizes the chances of capture. If your store’s policy on silent alarms is to take a position outside the store and wait for perpetrators to exit, you may want to consider immediately activating the alarm.

Pharmacy robberies are not going away any time soon, so use common sense in the meantime and be safe. Regardless of the steps you take, get to know your local law enforcement officers and let them know you are serious about pharmacy robberies and want to work with them to try to prevent these dangerous offenses.

Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the past president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at or via the website

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