5 simple ways to protect your pharmacy from theft


Practical steps to discourage thieves from targeting your pharmacy

In brief:

  • The risk of burglary is high, with more than 7,000 pharmacy break-ins per year.
  • Thieves are becoming more sophisticated, and pharmacy owners need to keep pace.
  • Decrease your risks by taking five simple steps that make robbing your pharmacy more difficult.

Pharmacies are at risk

The prescription drug abuse epidemic is contributing to the increase in pharmacy burglaries, according to Mike Warren, risk manager for Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Co., which works with independent pharmacies and small chains. Pharmacies are a financial target, but not for the cash. “There’s a lot of money in prescription narcotics,” said Warren.

The statistics show the risk is real. While pharmacies report more than 700 armed robberies per year, there are 10 times more burglaries annually, at more than 7,000.1

Thieves have upped their game

Not only has the volume of burglaries grown, but thieves have become more adept. In fact, burglars can be in and out of a pharmacy in less than two minutes.

While most pharmacy owners have taken basic steps to secure their businesses, Warren said, “The criminals have stepped up their game. The bad guys are more sophisticated.”

A criminal may observe how high a pharmacy’s motion sensors are set, cut a hole in a wall from an alley or adjacent building, and crawl on the floor to avoid detection. Or a criminal may break a window one night as a test to time how quickly police respond.

Just as thieves have stepped up their game, so too must pharmacy owners to avoid being an easy target.

Pharmacy theft statistics

According to statistics compiled by Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Co. from its own data and other national sources:

  • Pharmacies have a 14% probability of being the victim of a burglary, robbery or employee diversion of drugs. Victims have an 8.6% likelihood of another crime the same year.
  • 72% of the time, entry is gained through a door or window.
  • 68% of the contents taken during a pharmacy crime are prescription narcotics.
  • 15% of the time, police respond in less than five minutes, but burglars can be in and out in less than two minutes.

What you can do

Several factors influence the risks your pharmacy faces and the types of security measures that make the most sense. Nationally, for example, 72% of the time burglars gain entrance from the door or window, but in Texas that figure is only 59%, while the percentage of entries through walls and roofs is higher than the national average.

In addition to better securing doors and windows, here are five simple ideas to reduce your risk:

  1. Improve your alarm system. Alarm system failures and false alarms are a major problem in pharmacy burglaries. Pharmacists Mutual reports that pharmacy alarms work only 64% of the time. Tips include:
    • Use a verified alarm system. A high number of false alarms lead law enforcement officers to make responding to alarms a low priority. If your security company (or you) can verify through video that burglars are in the building, the alarm call to police will be given a higher priority.
    • Make it harder to disable the system. Have a secure line or cell phone backup, so burglars can’t simply cut a line to shut off the alarm. Consider a zero-delay alarm that is disabled with a remote device like a car key fob. A 45-second delay that gives staff time to enter a code gives a burglar about half the time needed to rob your pharmacy.
    • Trigger responses. If you don’t leave the lights on in the prescription area when the pharmacy closes, set your alarm to turn on all the lights when the alarm goes off, and have a loud siren sound to alert people nearby.
    • Provide complete coverage. Be sure motion sensors are well placed and back offices aren’t left unprotected. Place tape over lights that show when motion detectors are activated, so burglars checking out your pharmacy won’t know the areas to avoid.
    • Show up. When the alarm is triggered, meet the police there. If they arrive, can’t enter the building, and don’t see anything amiss, they may leave the scene while a burglar who entered through the roof is still inside.

Resources available

RxPATROL (Pattern Analysis Tracking Robberies and Other Losses) offers a Pharmacy Security Checklist on its website, as well as training videos.

RxPATROL, sponsored by Purdue Pharma L.P., is a partnership between the pharmacy industry and law enforcement agencies. It includes a pharmacy crime database that the pharmacy and law enforcement communities can report to and use to identify trends.

Your insurance company may also offer recommendations, risk assessments, and discounts on products or services to help protect your pharmacy from theft.

Health Mart Pharmacies have access to a Pharmacy Security Checklist from RxPATROL, a Pharmacy Robbery Response Training Course through Health Mart University, and discounts on PharmaSafe+’s innovative line of secured dispensing cabinets  for the safe storage of narcotics and high-theft pharmacy items.

  1. Train staff to be alert. “Don’t allow someone to wander around the pharmacy without talking to them,” Warren said. Burglars check out the security systems and also how observant the staff is. Simply asking “May I help you?” might make a burglar feel less welcome.Also train employees to be aware of peculiar behavior. For example, someone who hangs around the prescription counter longer than normal may be trying to learn what types of drugs the pharmacy keeps on hand.

    In some pharmacies, it may make sense to have a buzzer that alerts staff every time someone enters and a sign that asks customers to remove hats, hoodies and sunglasses.

  2. Beware of insider assistance. The signs of a burglar having employee help are often obvious. “When you watch a video [of the burglary], and they knew exactly where the drugs were, they likely had help,” Warren said.When hiring new employees, conduct criminal background checks, talk to references and verify education. “An amazingly high percentage of people lie on their applications,” Warren said.

    Even long-term employees may be a risk if they are dealing with financial pressure, trying to help a family member who is an addict or are addicted themselves. Watch for warning signs of changes of behavior, including frequent breaks. Change alarm codes when an employee leaves.

  3. Consider a safe. Often pharmacy owners resist locking medications in a safe because they fear they wouldn’t be able to open it during an armed robbery. In reality, that scenario isn’t common, and there are other options. For example, lock the safe when closing for the night, or use a time-delay safe and post a sign noting that for would-be burglars.A particle board or pressed board cabinet will not deter a thief. In one case Pharmacists Mutual cites, a thief was able to smash glass to enter a pharmacy, hop a counter and pry open a cabinet in 32 seconds to reach $25,000 in drugs.
  4. Know the local risks. “Pay attention to what is happening in your area,” Warren said. That includes talking with law enforcement and other business owners. The type of tactics burglars use varies by location. As an example, “Houston is infamous for wall and roof entries.”

“If they want to get into your pharmacy, they will get into your pharmacy,” Warren said. In one area thieves drove a truck straight through a wall. To help law enforcement find thieves there are options such as tracking devices that look like regular pill bottles.

Finally, Warren said, “Keep in mind the two-minute rule.” Burglars look for opportunities to be in and out before law enforcement arrives. “Anything you can do to mess that equation up” makes your pharmacy a less attractive target.


1 “Top 20 States for Pharmacy Robberies,” Mark Lowery, Drug Topics, June 30, 2015. LINK. “Pharmacy Crime,” Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Co., 2015. LINK.