Pharmacists at risk

November 5, 2007

Pharmacists must learn how to ensure their own safety with pharmacies a common target for theft.

On Sept. 4, two masked men robbed a CVS pharmacy in Pompano Beach, Fla., told the workers to get down on the floor, walked the manager through the store at gunpoint to empty the registers, then fled.

On Nov. 20, 2006, a woman fatally shot a pharmacist in the head at the Shands Jacksonville, Fla., hospital pharmacy, reportedly because the woman had been told to go to the back of the line.

The scope of the problem

RxPATROL, a collaborative effort between Purdue Pharma and law enforcement that tracks thefts from pharmacies, has had 760 pharmacy robberies reported since its inception in 2003. The only national data available specifically for pharmacy robberies, those voluntary reports offer but a glimpse into the problem. A Google search for local newspaper accounts of pharmacy robberies yielded 584 results just over the past year-from Stollings, W.V., to Portland, Ore. In June, the National Drug Intelligence Center reported that pharmacy robberies and burglaries in the Denver metropolitan area increased 50% in each of the past two years.

The robbery problem in New York is such that many pharmacists there carry concealed weapons, according to Craig Burridge, executive director, Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY). "Very few groups in New York can get a permit for a pistol, and pharmacists make up one of those groups," he said.

But it isn't only the armed robber who incites violence in the pharmacy workplace. "Road rage" and "going postal" are giving way to "patient rage," as customers struggle to deal with Medicare and insurance complexities along with life's other challenges. Burridge related the story of one N.Y. R.Ph. who had to tell a patient he could not fill a prescription because all three of his Medicaid cards, from three different states, had been declined. "The guy waited for the pharmacist to close and stabbed him to death."

Why the surge in pharmacy violence?

Capt. Richard Conklin, Stamford, Conn., Police Department, who manages RxPATROL, sees three recent developments behind the trend in pharmacy theft, which he's watched spiral upward over the past five years: