Last month in Manatee, Florida, a gunman robbed a Winn-Dixie pharmacy of oxycodone tablets. About 60 miles south of Manatee, a woman toting a gun stole 12 bottles of oxycodone from a Port Charlotte, Florida, CVS. And two states over, in Gulfport, Mississippi, a 23-year-old man robbed a pharmacy at knifepoint.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast of the United States, a bizarre crime was being played out. James Fogle, the man who wrote the novel Drugstore Cowboy that later became a movie starring Matt Dillon, tucked a BB gun into his pants and walked into a Seattle independent pharmacy with an accomplice who was armed with a handgun. They tied up the store's three employees and stuffed an unknown quantity of drugs into trash bags. They were caught a short time afterward.
A recent article in the New York Times highlighted a pharmacist in Bingham, Maine, who, after two robbers in ski masks held him up at knifepoint last summer, posted a sign stating that the store no longer stocked OxyContin in the hopes that this would thwart any other attempted robberies for the potent narcotic. According to the article, that robbery was only one of many plaguing pharmacies in the Pine Tree State.
I was left with the distinct feeling that had I spent more time researching recent pharmacy crimes, I would have come up with dozens, if not hundreds, of others happening daily across the country. There is no question that retail pharmacy is a crime magnet. Although these stores attract crooks primarily for the narcotics kept in inventory, they are also targets because of their accessibility. Pharmacies generally keep longer hours than most retail establishments, with many open 24 hours. Additionally, the prescription department is usually isolated from the rest of the store, which makes it a perfect place to commit a crime with far fewer witnesses. And while surveillance cameras and other antitheft devices help, many of these crimes are apparently continuing unabated.
What many pharmacists may not know is that there is an online data clearinghouse that tracks pharmacy robberies, burglaries, and thefts involving the loss of controlled substances. RxPATROL (www.rxpatrol.org) was conceived and funded by Purdue Pharma L.P., manufacturer of OxyContin. The purpose of the site is to collect, collate, analyze, and disseminate pharmacy-theft intelligence to law enforcement throughout the nation. Its goal is to help protect pharmacists, guard against potential robberies, and assist law enforcement in their efforts to successfully apprehend and prosecute persons involved in controlled-substance pharmacy crime.
That is no small feat. According to the site's data, there are approximately 6,197 incidents in its database that include 1,870 robberies, 1,851 cases of fraud, 918 forgeries, 1,196 burglaries, 115 cargo thefts, 26 employee thefts, 56 reports of shoplifting, and 165 other crimes related to controlled substances.
But the effectiveness of the database in catching criminals is only as good as the pharmacists and pharmacy personnel who report the crimes. Pharmacists are encouraged to visit the site and report when a crime has been committed. The report is easy to fill out, and the information provided could prevent similar robberies of other pharmacy retailers in neighboring towns and cities. RxPATROL collaborates with Crime Stoppers, a nationwide organization that aids in the dissemination of information regarding crimes.
We all know that working in retail pharmacy today can be challenging on many fronts. While pharmacy crime is probably never going to be eradicated completely, it's nice to know that there is a means to get the message out quickly when it happens to you.
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