DEA Shares Tips to Protect Against Pharmacy Break-Ins


A string of thefts at local pharmacies has spurred the DEA to issue warnings and share tips for independent pharmacists to keep their stores secure.

Independent pharmacies across the nation—from multiple instances in New York and New Jersey all the way to California—have seen an increasing number of burglaries. The New York division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported 38 thefts in 2022 and 36 in 2023, which is a major increase from 5 thefts in 2021.1

In a webinar co-sponsored by the American Pharmacists Association and the National Community Pharmacists Association, Kerry Hamilton, section chief of Pharmaceutical Investigations at the DEA and Hauns Charters, executive assistant for Diversion Operations at the DEA, addressed intruders’ break-in tactics, the top sought-after controlled substances, and ways to be proactive against potential intruders.

From January 2022 to December 2023, the total cost of stolen inventory in community pharmacies reached $26 million, according to DEA theft and loss reports. The reported loss of $26 million would equate to almost $300 million in street-level value, Charters explained.2

Key Takeaways

  • Independent pharmacies have seen a recent rise in burglaries over the past 3 years and many have involved drug rings where specific individuals and groups are targeting different pharmacies in a given area.
  • The DEA's Kerry Hamilton and Hauns Charters sat down to present their findings and tips in a webinar addressing the recent break-ins.

How Break-Ins Happen

When it comes to storefront burglaries, intruders are using 2 methods to break in: breaking glass windows, drive-thrus, or doors, and cutting holes into the walls of pharmacies from other storefronts.

broken storefront window

The New York division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported 38 thefts in 2022 and 36 in 2023, which is a major increase from 5 thefts in 2021. | image credit: Animaflora PicsStock /

For those who take the glass breaking route, intruders have been using an inexpensive glass breaking tool easily found at home repair stores or Amazon. The tools allow the intruder to create a much cleaner break into the glass, rather than a spiderweb effect, minimizing the disruption and the noises they could make when trespassing.2

To stay secure against this method of intrusion—and despite what may be considered an unattractive look—Hamilton suggested investing in locking roll-down gates to protect the front of pharmacies from burglars.2

The other method intruders are utilizing is common for strip mall pharmacies with other businesses or storefronts adjacent. According to DEA reports, individuals have been breaking into less-secure businesses adjacent to pharmacies and cutting holes in the wall to enter specific areas of the pharmacy.2

Once the intruders make it into these pharmacies, security footage has shown them crawling on the floor to avoid motion sensor alarms. Hamilton and Charters advised pharmacy owners to utilize motion sensors to the best of their ability: never have them covered by other objects and keep sensitivity levels as high as possible.2

More Tips to Keep Pharmacies Secure

Along with updated motion sensors and roll-down gates, Hamilton and Charters offered further guidance on how to keep the most secure pharmacy:

High-definition cameras. Using the best quality security cameras can ensure the highest chances of identifying intruders. When reporting a theft, pharmacists are advised to submit a report using Form 106 to the DEA. In the example burglary presented in the webinar, Hamilton pointed out that the high-definition security cameras were crucial in getting information on the intruder and learning their methods of intrusion.

Silent alarms. Installing silent alarms throughout the pharmacy is a discrete tactic to potentially detain intruders as they are committing theft. A silent alarm would alert local law enforcement before the intruder is able to realize.

Bolted safes. While some pharmacies keep their most expensive substances in safes, many of them are free-standing and able to be transported. Hamilton suggested to bolt all safes to either the floor or wall to ensure its inability to be moved or stolen.

What Exactly are Burglars Stealing?

Of the top 10 controlled substances reported stolen to the DEA, oxycodone, hydrocodone, promethazine with codeine, and amphetamines seem to be the most sought-after drugs for pharmacy intruders.2

After stealing these drugs, intruders are selling them on the streets. And, since the drugs originate from certified manufacturers, they are selling at premium prices, as opposed to synthetic versions that have a high potential of being infused with more dangerous substances such as fentanyl.2

“[Burglars] can make almost a $30,000 profit on these oxycodone medications,” one pharmacist told New York’s Pix 11 in an interview.3

Many of these break-ins have been associated with drug rings, with areas around the country seeing multiple instances from the same individuals. But until independent pharmacies are proactive about keeping their stores secure, these acts of theft will continue in the community.

“We can't share all of the details about our investigations, but we're hoping that you can work with us on the DEA 106 forms to try to help identify those burglaries that are connected and associated with a ring,” concluded Hamilton.2

READ MORE: How AI Can Improve Controlled Substance Security

1. Nandy B. Police investigate pharmacy break-ins in several Hudson Valley counties. News 12 - Westchester. March 5, 2024. Accessed April 11, 2024.
2. DEA discussion: update on burglaries of independent pharmacies, e-prescribing fraud, and tips for protecting your store. Webinar. April 11, 2024. Accessed April 11, 2024.
3. DiLorenzo A. NYPD searching for burglars stealing prescription drugs from pharmacies. PIX 11. December 8, 2023. Accessed April 12, 2024.
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