Pharmacy Crime on the Rise. Information the Pharmacist Needs to Know

Bill Bell, Chief Operating Officer of PharmaSafe

Editor’s Note: NCPA invited our Protect Your Pharmacy Now! partners at PharmaSafe to share tips and trends regarding pharmacy crime. This blog is part of a weeklong series on pharmacy safety and security during Protect Your Pharmacy Week and reprinted with permission from our partners at Pharmacists Mutual. Pharmasfe is offering a 10% discount for NCPA members along with a free additional narcotics cabinet shelf with additional discounts and free training are available for members who order before the end of April 2012. For more information on how to receive the NCPA discount, please contact Valerie Briggs at

Recently we have seen an interesting change in pharmacy crime. In the past, a large majority of the crimes were initiated and perpetrated by drug users who needed a “fix.” Most of these crimes targeted controlled medications and more specifically pain killers which the assailants were users of. These crimes were often poorly planned and at times occurred spontaneously. This is not the case anymore.

You just don’t see pharmacies blindly targeted any longer. Even when the perpetrator is a user, they do their homework. The availability of very good “intel” is plentiful and anyone can easily educate themselves very quickly on the “how to’s” of successful pharmacy crime. Word on the street spreads fast and specific strategies and plans are shared among peers. Crooks will case the potential target pharmacies prior to committing the crimes, making as many as 5 to 20 visits. They are knowledgeable about prescription drugs and may be familiar with likely police response times. Often, inside information is available from the pharmacy.

We are now are seeing crimes that are purely motivated by economics, specifically targeting all high value, brand name drugs, not just the pain meds. Many different drugs and drug classes have become targets because of their high street or black market values. The distribution of black market prescription drugs has become very profitable and now involves sophisticated well-funded groups including organized crime. Career robbers and burglars are moving into the very profitable pharmacy crime arena and away from banks, jewelry and art, which are less productive and more difficult and dangerous targets to successfully attack.

Situations have been identified where drug dealers have been teaching diversion tactics to individuals and sending them to pharmacy tech school. The new tech goes to work for the pharmacy. By knowing the in’s and out’s of the pharmacy, their diversion activities can be difficult to spot. In some cases, the number of diverted doses has exceeded 50,000.

In a robbery or burglary the key for them is the ability to get in and out quickly. Robbers typically complete the crime in 2 to 3 minutes. Chances of being apprehended rise dramatically every minute beyond this time frame and they know it. They have every intention of getting away and choose the softest targets accordingly. Anything and everything you can do that is a visible barrier to the bad guys and will slow them down is a tremendous deterrent. When you enlist hardware and technology as a proactive security strategy which have a pronounced visible presence, crooks very likely will bypass your store for an easier target.

Store owners need to be aware of the fact that pharmacies are now a highly sought after target of robbery. There is much more at stake than just the lost product. Employees need to be properly trained for their safety and the safety of your customers. Lawyers have now started “chasing” pharmacy robberies and are successfully suing store owners who have not properly trained and prepared their staff members for a robbery. In these cases, the failure to properly train employees for a potential robbery has been devastating to the business.

The most important thing pharmacists need to do is educate themselves. With local budget cuts many burglary alarms are not being responded to in a timely fashion.

Secure your site. Consider hiring a security consultant to perform a complete site risk assessment. Pharmacy crime has evolved and now is likely the most productive crime for the offenders considering the ease of pulling them off and the very large amounts of easy profits (prescription drugs) involved.

Know who is targeting you and what you can do to get your store off the “soft” target list. The sad reality is that for a criminal, a pharmacy is turning into the best target out there. Pharmacies have high value products in small, easy to carry packaging; are not guarded; are easily accessed; have long hours; have little, if any, physical security barriers; the employees typically have no training and are not prepared for an event; and robbers should not experience resistance. Once the crime is committed the drugs are very quickly converted to large amounts of cash.

Implement a comprehensive security strategy that starts with a training program for employees. Install as many visible physical barriers as possible. They will keep the bad guys out of your store. Remember, you don’t have to be perfectly secure, just more secure than your neighbors. A few things that will help greatly are:

  • arrange the store so there is not a straight path from the front door to the pharmacy counter
  • good alarm system with visible siren and strobe light
  • get a highly visible time delay capable safe, with user access auditing and silent alarm capabilities
  • install a modern digital security camera system and post signage promoting it
  • security glass and glass break detection
  • motion detector lighting and good lighting all around the exterior of building
  • be active in having a good relationship with local law enforcement (consider offering discounts)

It is a very volatile and dangerous time for pharmacy employees and owners. There is an all out assault on pharmacies. We are seeing many different pharmacy crimes on the increase. Unfortunately, with the numerous high value products pharmacies carry these days, pharmacy crimes will only continue to be on the increase. Many pharmacies only utilize reactive security measures like basic alarms and security cameras. While cameras are very important tools critical to the investigation and hopeful prosecution of assailants, they are only one piece of a good security strategy and no longer seem be a significant deterrent to the criminals. Pharmacies need a more proactive approach focusing on prevention if we are going to get pharmacy crimes on the decline.

1 Response to “Pharmacy Crime on the Rise. Information the Pharmacist Needs to Know”

  1. 1 M.J. Bell April 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    A time delay safe is a liability for staff. A thief will only become aggitated and may attack staff if the safe cannot be opened quickly. I have heard about pharmacists being attacked when under duress, they forget the combinbation.

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