Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
A lucrative street market for opiates is feeding an increase in robberies at Edmonton pharmacies, threatening to put staff safety on the line.
Last year, there were 27 pharmacy robberies in the city compared with 18 for all of 2009, notes a statement from the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). As of March 29, the EPS reports, there have been 13 robberies as opposed to seven in year-over-year comparisons.
“It is a disturbing trend, not just in Edmonton, but surrounding areas as well,” the EPS notes. Of the 13 robberies to date, 11 have been “drug-targeted.”
Many thefts are driven by a street market for opiate drugs such as OxyContin, a powerful painkiller. One pill can sell for upwards of $80, the EPS reports.
Staff Sergeant Howard Kunce, a member of the EPS’s robbery section, says of pharmacy robberies, “there are typically multiple offenders who are potentially addicted to and using drugs, perhaps even at the time of the offence.”
Comparing the robberies to those involving convenience stores, he suggests that there is a “slightly higher propensity or potential for violence” against workers. Perpetrators typically wear some form of disguise, and weapons — usually edged weapons like knives — are produced about 79 per cent of the time.
“Any robbery can become violent at any time,” Kunce cautions, adding “the demeanor, calmness and coolness of a co-operating victim can go a long way in reducing the potential for violence.”
Cynthia Rousseau, director of communications for the Edmonton-based Alberta Pharmacists’ Association, says the group has teamed with the Edmonton and Calgary police services to develop a robbery prevention guide for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and students, as well as a robbery management and employee safety course.
“That’s been really well-received,” Rousseau says of the safety course. Noting that sessions have been offered twice in Edmonton and once in Calgary, she says that “our message has always been [to] try to plan and understand how you are going to react in a crisis situation so you will know how to protect yourself and staff and customers.”
Pharmacy robberies were in the spotlight in May of 2010 following two robberies and another attempt in Calgary over a one-week period. On May 17, 2010, a 51-year-old man unsuccessfully attempted to rob narcotics from a pharmacy at a Real Canadian Superstore. About 20 minutes later, he robbed a nearby Canada Safeway store of an undisclosed amount of OxyContin.
Four days earlier, two masked men entered the Mission Pharmacy, but the clerk was able to safely exit the workplace while the men pocketed drugs.
With pharmacy thefts on the rise, they are always at risk from robbery with all the medication that they have at their disposal. I have always wondered why security at these facilities was never made a priority. If a potential thief knew that there was a good chance of getting caught because of superior security, one must assume that the number of attempted robberies would diminish.
The world has a large drug culture and pharmacies are becoming like the fast food takeout place for legal drugs and the governments, federal, municipal and provincial, need to understand security at these places must be made a priority and beefed up to better protect society.
I’ve always wondered how many drug-related robberies are actually insider-assisted. The financial aspect is just too enticing for many people. (Just a thought)
Everyone knows that the drug industry is in the billions of dollars and it starts right at your local pharmacy.
Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.