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How Safe Is Your Independent Pharmacy From a Robbery?

November 27, 2018

Inside: With the rise of opioid abuse, pharmacy theft is increasing. Learn how to reduce your risk while preparing for the worst.

As America’s opioid epidemic rages, the risk of pharmacy robberies and burglaries is rising.

New regulations mean prescription opioids are increasingly difficult to acquire legitimately. But demand hasn’t waned. That leads to big opportunity for illicit drug dealers who can profit from providing narcotics to the millions of Americans who abuse opioids.

“It’s the only place of business in today’s society that you can go in and steal the product that it offers and get more than what it’s worth,” said one convicted thief to sociologist Tara O’Connor Shelley, Ph.D., in a multi-year study from Colorado State University on pharmacy robbery and burglary.

In 2016, pharmacies reported 1,268 burglaries and 822 armed robberies. While the most common threat for chain pharmacies is employee theft, independent pharmacies see more crime in the form of burglary.

Even if your pharmacy’s insurance covers theft, it still hurts your business in multiple ways:


And beyond your business, the consequences of losing opioids to theft are steep: Opioids contributed to 42,249 overdose deaths in 2016 and an estimated 49,060 in 2017.

How to Protect Your Pharmacy From a Robbery

You can’t guarantee you won’t become a victim of a robbery, but with the right preparation and planning you can significantly reduce your chances. Here’s how.

Put in preventative measures

The Colorado State study said 42 percent of pharmacy robbers targeted a locally owned store. Many of them perceived “mom and pop” stores as having more security weaknesses they could potentially exploit.

Prove the perpetrators wrong with these preventative measures:


Although these investments may be cost prohibitive, offenders rated the following security measures as strong deterrents:


The Department of Justice also recommended the following measures:



Keep a keen eye

The majority of offenders (72 percent) reported they had visited the targeted pharmacy before the crime and most did so while filling a prescription.

Because of that, Pharmacists Mutual recommends watching for suspicious behavior: “people avoiding eye contact, and folks who have an unusual interest in the cameras, motion detectors and layout behind the counter.”

Take notice of calls asking about specific opioids by name or asking other suspicious questions. Make a note each time these calls occur. If you notice several of them in a few days, give the police a heads up.

Crime risk varies widely from town to town and even block to block. Check the violent and property crime rates in your area to assess your risk. When considering taking more expensive security measures like camera systems and alarms, weigh the up-front cost against your area’s specific risk.

Resist the urge to rely on your idea of your neighborhood as a “safe” or “unsafe” place. Opioid addiction occurs in communities of all kinds, which means illicit opioid sales are likely to occur in communities of all kinds—making pharmacy theft a possibility virtually anywhere.

Train for a robbery

In 2018, Ohio State University’s School of Pharmacy provided robbery training to first- and second-year pharmacy students. “We want to make sure our students are prepared for whatever may happen while they are out on rotation,” said Donnie Sullivan, professor of clinical pharmacy.

Some state or local organizations have created similar programs to help business owners prepare for the possibility of burglary or armed robbery. Private companies like Veritas Training Consultants and PharmaSafe offer pharmacy-specific online courses.

As the owner-pharmacist, it’s your responsibility to make sure your employees know what to do in case of robbery. Consider it part of your disaster plan.

Here are some actions to take so that your staff is prepared:



How to Respond to a Pharmacy Robbery

Unfortunately, some pharmacies will do everything right and still become victims of a crime. In the case of armed robbery, knowing what to do can save lives and help authorities catch the perpetrator.

Here’s what to do if you ever find yourself in this terrifying situation.

In the moment


Immediately After


Keep your pharmacy safe from robberies with the right planning and preparation. 



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