Protecting Against Pharmacy Crime


Pharmacy robberies and burglaries are on the rise. What can pharmacists do to protect themselves and their stores?

Editor’s Note: April 18-22 is “Protect Your Pharmacy Week”

By Kate H. Gamble

Reports of pharmacies being robbed or broken into have become increasingly common over the past few years. Although there are no official statistics, federal drug officials, pharmacies, drug companies, state authorities, and local police departments nationwide have noticed a spike in recent years, according to a media report, which found that the number of armed robberies, burglaries, and drug thefts have increased significantly in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Missouri. A pharmacist in South Oklahoma City is awaiting trial for the fatal shooting of a teenager during a robbery attempt in 2009.

And it isn’t a problem that is unique to urban areas. The author of a blog called “Love Being a Pharmacist” experienced 2 robberies in 4 months at her pharmacy, which is located in a small town. “If we are having this much trouble, I can only imagine what it’s like in larger cities,” she wrote. “Over the years I have seen this job become more and more dangerous, and most people have no idea.”

Crime against pharmacy is a serious problem. But while there isn’t a way to prevent these incidents from occurring, there are ways to help pharmacists and their staff more effectively prepare for situations such as drug robbery and thefts.

Reacting to Crime

In recognition of the fourth annual “Protect Your Pharmacy Week,” April 18-22, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), Purdue Pharma L.P., and their partners have introduced a new theme encouraging pharmacists to make a plan to REACT. The acronym REACT represents highly recommended tips for community pharmacists to remember in the case of a crime against a pharmacy:

Remain Calm

  • Comply with suspect
  • Do not resist
  • End encounter as soon as possible

Eye Witness

  • Make a mental note of suspect description

Activate Alarm

  • Activate robbery alarm as soon as it is safe to do so
  • Lock doors after suspect(s) exit

Call Police

  • Notify police as soon as possible
  • Provide brief description of suspect and mode and direction of travel
  • Provide additional details as necessary

Take Charge

  • Protect the crime scene
  • Keep customers calm
  • Avoid witness collaboration
  • Assist police with investigation

Developed in 2008, the “Protect Your Pharmacy” initiative aims to “help pharmacy owners proactively prepare to keep pharmacies a place of safe and effective health care” by providing the tools and resources they need, said Robert J. Greenwood, RPh, NCPA President and Waterloo, Iowa pharmacy owner, in a statement.

For instance, NCPA members can receive security height decals for the pharmacy doorway featuring the REACT reminder, along with links to training videos on pharmacy crime, discounts on closed-circuit TV cameras, recorders, and surveillance equipment, and safety and security tips from law enforcement professionals.

Planning Ahead

However, while having these tools can be very helpful, what is perhaps even more important is having a solid plan in place and communicating it carefully to staff members, according to Pharmacy Times columnist John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad. In a 2010 Pharmacy Times column, Cmdr Burke advised pharmacists to “take time to think about how you will respond during a pharmacy crime, and discuss it with your coworkers. Discussing the scenario, with safety being utmost on your mind, is a good way not to make a bad situation even worse,” he wrote.

Cmdr Burke also offered these tips:

  • If you have a surveillance camera system, make sure this fact is prominently displayed on the front door, and also make sure that the cameras are working and recording as intended.
  • Mark the bottles of the most popular controlled substances on the bottom.
  • Install an alarm system, and make sure you spend the extra monthly fee to have a back-up cell phone feature.

Finally, if any incident occurs, it should be reported both to local police and to RxPatrol (, a national database created by Purdue Pharma that tracks, analyzes and provides information on pharmacy crime to law enforcement and pharmacies, Cmdr Burke advised. Pharmacists can also follow RxPatrol on Twitter to receive timely updates on robberies and burglaries.

For more information and resources, click on the links below.

  • Video: Walgreens Beefs up Pharmacy Security
  • Pharmacy Security Checklist
  • Captive at the Counter: When Robbers Take Hostages—Part 1
  • Captive at the Counter—Part 2: When Robbers Need a Quick Fix

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