Hot tip for any would-be robbers: Pharmacies are the new banks, according to a story in The New York Times this weekend. The article, by Abby Goodnough, reads almost like a typical Times trend piece, except it's about desperate addicts lost at the margins of society, instead of vegan sushi chefs who moonlight as bloghouse producers.
Goodnough digs into a spate of pharmacy robberies that have occurred in states as diverse as Washington, Maine, California, Oklahoma, and Florida. Criminals are going after prescription drugs, especially OxyContin, Vicodin, and Xanax. Some of these robbers are apparently addicts--Goodnough reports that in Maine, one guy, brandishing a machete, "leapt over a pharmacy counter to snatch the painkiller oxycodone, gulping some before he fled"--while others may be selling the drugs on the street at inflated prices.
Meanwhile, pharmacies are responding by busting out what anti-crime measures they have available. "Many have upgraded their surveillance cameras," Goodnough reports. "Some have installed bulletproof glass and counters high enough to keep would-be robbers from jumping them ... In Tulsa, Okla., where there was a steep increase in drugstore robberies last year, at least one pharmacist now requires customers to be buzzed in the door." There are also pill bottles implanted with a "tracking device" that allow police to zero in on robbers after they leave the scene. Snazzy!
Of course, as Gawker's Hamilton Nolan points out, prescription-drug robberies have been around for a while. "If you went to high school in small-town America, this is old news," Nolan writes. "You almost certainly know at least one guy who was doing this way before it was a New York Times-certified trend." Goodnough, for her part, draws a line under the past three years, citing "more than 1,800 pharmacy robberies" within that window, but the pharmaceutical industry seems like it's been worried about the problem for considerably longer, as suggested by this article by John Burke, published at the Pharmacy Times Web site in 2007.
"Reviewing the robbery offenses that are reported through RxPatrol (www.rxpatrol.org) every day makes me think they have increased significantly over the past few years," writes Burke, a veteran police commander, who goes on to recommend common-sense measures like keeping the parking lot brightly lit and making sure your security cameras are visible. Still, says Burke, "the unfortunate reality is that, if someone wants to hold up a pharmacy, he or she is going to do so."