By Heather Foley
Patient safety is always at the forefront of every patient care decision. But what about the safety of those who care for the patients? What about community pharmacy safety? While other crimes across the country may be decreasing, pharmacy robberies (usually committed to acquire narcotics) are increasing in certain jurisdictions across the country.(1-3) Pharmacy robberies are considered one of the most severe forms of criminal activity in Canada, carrying a weight less severe than only homicide and certain forms of sexual assault.(4) In the wake of a national opioid crisis, the safety of community pharmacy staff and visitors has to be a priority.
Unfortunately, no single solution exists to solve the problem of pharmacy robberies. It may be impossible to completely prevent robberies, but you can take certain measures to reduce the risk of being targeted, reduce the risk of conflict during a robbery, and aid in suspect apprehension to prevent future robberies.
1. Team up with your local police service
Perhaps the most effective way to respond to the community pharmacy robbery issue is to develop a working relationship with the police. Watch local patterns of criminal behaviour by following the news and collaborate with law enforcement officials; this can go a long way toward developing effective local protection from pharmacy crime.(5)
In his book, Staring Down The Barrel,(2) pharmacist Ken Fagerman describes a successful working collaboration between pharmacists and police in Indiana (US). Their Pharmacy Crime Watch program involves pharmacists reporting criminal activity through the RxPatrol database,(6) with subsequent release of reports by police to all local pharmacists. This communication program has resulted in a significant drop in armed robberies and an increase in arrests related to prescription forgery and fraud. As an example in Canada, the Essex County Pharmacists’ Association in Southwestern Ontario has collaborated with local law enforcement agencies to obtain a provincial Proceeds of Crime Grant to help tackle pharmacy robberies in Windsor Essex.
2. ‘Harden’ your pharmacy
Certain pharmacies may have features or be located in environments that increase the likelihood of being robbed. Criminals are more likely to avoid a “hardened target.” The more barriers your pharmacy has to slow them down or increase their chance of being caught, the less likely that your pharmacy will be targeted.(5) Barriers include obvious video surveillance, alarms, good lighting, alert employees, high counters and an unobstructed view into the pharmacy from outside.
Many documents freely available on the Internet can be used to perform a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) analysis of any community pharmacy, in order to identify potential “soft spots.” For example, the Essex County Pharmacists’ Association has partnered with their four local police services to develop a pharmacy-specific CPTED tool (available at www.ecparx.com/pharmacy-safety-initiative/). Pharmacists in Windsor Essex can request a visit from a police officer to provide a one-on-one analysis of their pharmacy. Nova Scotia pharmacists have also developed a comprehensive pharmacy safety guideline.(7)
3. Aid in suspect apprehension
As long as narcotics are physically located in the pharmacy, the robbery risk remains. In the unfortunate case of a robbery, after ensuring staff safety, apprehension of the suspect is the number one priority. Immediate apprehension recovers cash, decreases the amount of illicit narcotic that reaches the street for diversion, and helps to prevent future robberies. For example, 12 robberies in Southwestern Ontario in early 2017 were traced back to one suspect.(8) Had the suspect been apprehended after the first occurrence, the subsequent 11 robberies may have been prevented.
The most promising advance in pharmacy robbery suspect apprehension is technology designed to remove the criminal from the street.(2,5,9) It includes tracking devices that combine an aided global positioning system (GPS), cellular and radio frequency location technologies, along with a secure tracking website; criminal apprehension success rates are ≥ 70%–80%.(9) This technology can be easily installed into any pharmacy across North America (see reference 9).
4. Develop a robbery response plan
Robberies are more than a theoretical concern for community pharmacies. Developing a robbery response plan and following simple rules can help protect everyone involved from harm.(5) It is vital for everyone who works in the pharmacy, including relief pharmacists, delivery drivers, cashiers and summer students, to be aware of policies and procedures regarding pharmacy safety and robbery response.
Robbery response plans should specify the preventive measures in place, what to do if you are working during a pharmacy robbery, instructions for reporting the robbery (e.g., mandatory reporting to Health Canada) and what to do afterwards to ensure the mental and emotional wellbeing of all involved. References 2, 5, 7, 11 and 12 provide ideas on developing a robbery response plan.
5. Support ‘problematic substance use’ initiatives
Problematic substance use is at the root of pharmacy robberies. Pharmacies are usually robbed of narcotics for personal use or to sell to someone else with an addiction. Therefore, the “big picture” approach to mitigating pharmacy robberies is to actively participate in initiatives that aim to minimize the harms related to problematic substance use, such as community drug strategies.
Community drug strategies are built on four guiding principles: prevention, law enforcement, treatment and harm reduction.(13) Each principle is equally important to effectively reduce the negative impact of substance use disorders. Pharmacists have ample opportunity to engage in or take leadership in their local drug strategies, which will ultimately lead to safer communities for everyone.
Heather Foley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a pharmacist with the Chatham Kent Family Health Team in Chatham, Ont. She is also a regional clinical coordinator for the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and president of the Essex County Pharmacists’ Association.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of Pharmacy Practice+Business.
- Horrobin B, Director of Planning and Physical Resources, Windsor Police Service, Windsor, ON. Personal communication: June 14, 2017.
- Fagerman, K. Staring down the barrel. Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse; 2013.
- Hayes M. Pharmacies increasingly targeted as province clamps down on pain medication. The Hamilton Spectator. https://www.thespec.com/news-story/6396289-pharmacies-increasingly-targeted-as-province-clamps-down-on-pain-medication/ (accessed July 19, 2017).
- Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Policing Services Section. Examples of weights for the Crime Severity Index. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-004-x/2009001/t001-eng.htm (accessed July 19, 2017).
- Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Company. Research: Pharmacy crime; a look at pharmacy burglary and robbery in the United States and the strategies and tactics needed to manage the problem. https://www.phmic.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/PMC_CrimeReport.pdf (accessed July 17, 2017).
- RxPatrol. Rx pattern analysis tracking robberies & other losses. Stamford, CT. http://rxpatrol.org/ (accessed July 14, 2017).
- Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Guidelines: prevention and management of pharmacy robberies and break-ins in Nova Scotia. September 2012. www.nspharmacists.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/RobberyBreakinPreventnGuidelineSept19_12.pdf (accessed July 14, 2017).
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News, Windsor, ON. Alberta man arrested for rash of pharmacy robberies across Southwestern Ontario. April 24, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/alberta-man-arrested-for-rash-of-pharmacy-robberies-across-southwestern-ontario-1.4082717 (accessed July 15, 2017).
- 3SI Security Systems. GPS tracking to protect pharmacies from robbery and burglary. www.3sisecurity.com/protectpharmacy (accessed July 15, 2017).
- Health Canada. Loss and theft report form. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/controlled-substances-precursor-chemicals/controlled-substances/compliance-monitoring/loss-theft-forgery/loss-theft-report-form.html (accessed July 19, 2017).
- Portland Police Bureau. A guide to robbery prevention and response to robbery. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/31555 (accessed July 19, 2017).
- Vigne NL, Wartell J. US Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services. Robbery of pharmacies. http://www.popcenter.org/problems/PDFs/robbery_of_pharmacies.pdf (accessed July 19, 2017).
- City of Vancouver. Four pillars drug strategy. http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/four-pillars-drug-strategy.aspx (accessed August 2, 2017).