Thieves target pharmacies for drugs

Published on August 9, 2011
Peggy Payne, manager of Octagon PharmaChoice in Paradise, said her business may cease carrying certain prescription narcotics following a break-in last month. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Octagon PharmaChoice manager Peggy Payne has watched her business get targeted in three failed break and enter attempts in three years. Each time, they were thwarted by the alarm system.

But the fourth attempt made in the early hours of July 26 proved successful for the wrong party, and now Payne is left to deal with the mess left behind.

“You really feel violated when you come in and you know someone has been in here,” she said, sitting behind her desk in Paradise to the left of where her husband, pharmacist Calvin Payne, provides prescription drugs to people in need.

There have been at least four cases of break-ins at pharmacies in Newfoundland and Labrador during the last two weeks.

The most recent incident happened last Friday in Conception Bay South, where more than 2,000 prescription narcotics were stolen from Green’s Drug Mart.

Const. Colin McNeil of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary told The Telegram it was the second break and enter attempt in less than a week at the business following an earlier failed attempt at entry.

More than 1,700 pills were stolen from Octagon PharmaChoice, according to Peggy Payne, including Percocet, Ritalin, oxycodene and morphine.

The theft of prescription narcotics concerns the RNC and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, although McNeil could not confirm whether such crimes are on the rise.

Sgt. Boyd Merrill said while there are no specific statistics on the numbers of break-ins at pharmacies that the RCMP deals with, he said there are very few. Of all break-and-enters, he estimates less than one per cent take place at pharmacies.

Rick Elliott, president of the Pharmacists’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL), dealt with the aftermath of a particularly infamous prescription drug robbery at Brookfield PharmaChoice in St. John’s.

On Jan. 12, 2011, two clerks at the store were doused in gasoline during an armed robbery. Demerol, Percocet and Ritalin were amongst the drugs taken.

“It’s a very big concern, especially for independent pharmacies,” said Elliott.

PANL provides information to its members on how to prevent robberies. Since the incident at his own pharmacy, a locking mechanism for doors controlled at the counter has been installed.

Elliott said they are careful to keep inventory lean, thus reducing the amount of drugs that will hit the street in the event of a robbery.

“It’s a difficult balancing act carrying as little inventory as possible and still being able to serve your patients in a timely basis,” he said.

While stiff sentences will help matters, Elliott is also a believer in the need for addiction treatment programs to help those craving prescription narcotics.

Since the break-in on July 26, Octagon PharmaChoice has installed shatterproof glass and placed metal bars on its windows. Entry was gained through the window behind one of the shelving units in last month’s robbery.

Payne said having the ability to obtain narcotics in smaller quantities may reduce the likelihood of pharmacies becoming a target for criminals. A prescription for 30 pills may require a pharmacy to order product that can only be ordered in quantities of 100-150 pills, she said.

The break-in has the Paynes second-guessing how they will proceed in offering services to customers. Peggy Payne said her husband is mulling over the possibility of ceasing to carry certain narcotics.

“There are people who definitely need these drugs and you want to be able to take care of those customers,” she said.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Pharmacy Board, which regulates pharmacies in this province, sent out a memo to all pharmacies last Tuesday offering details on a variety of measures they can take to protect themselves from possible break-and-enters.

“We’re hoping to work with the RNC later this year to get another education session going,” said Arlene Crane, the board’s deputy registrar. She added their are strict regulations on the handling of narcotics.

The RNC investigations into the Paradise and Conception Bay South break-ins are still underway. Two men were arrested last week for illegally possessing prescription drugs, and the RNC said in a news release those drugs were believed to have originated from the Octagon PharmaChoice break-and-enter.