As the nation’s opioid epidemic continues, and regulations tighten on prescribing painkillers, pharmacies become potential targets for theft and robberies. Three Yuba City pharmacies were robbed in the past month – with losses totaling approximately $48,000.
During a ten-day span in January, the Walgreens pharmacy along Highway 20 was robbed of $28,791, Walgreens on Lincoln Road was robbed of $19,000, and Franklin Pharmacy along Franklin Road was robbed of $500 worth of stolen pharmaceuticals.
Sutter County Sheriff’s Detective Sergeant Raj Gill said he thinks the local robberies might have been committed by drug dealers, who have timed the robberies exactly right to take as much as they can.
“Instead of selling meth it’s in the form of a pill,” Gill said. “Instead of stealing from somebody 40 pills at a time, now you’re looking at thousands and thousands of pills in minutes.”
On Jan. 15, two men took pain medications and some ADHD medications from the safe at the Walgreens pharmacy along Highway 20. Pharmacy officials said the robbers took almost half of the pharmacy’s supply of controlled substances that were in the safe.
Three days after that robbery, the Walgreens on Lincoln Road was robbed. According to previous Appeal-Democrat reports, the suspects of the Lincoln Road robbery are described as two African-American males between ages 16-25, standing between 5-feet tall and 5-foot-6 inches tall, and approximately 140-150 pounds. The Sutter County Sheriff’s Office said the suspects remain at large.
The Franklin Pharmacy was robbed on Jan. 25 when five men entered the store, jumped over the counter, went to the narcotics cabinet and ordered employees on the ground. The suspects fled in a silver four-door sedan.
Gill said the department is investigating whether the pharmacy robberies are related, but can’t confirm whether the incidents are linked. He said they are collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to investigate the robberies.
“We’re working with the Yuba City police and also with Sacramento,” Gill said. “The one on Lincoln Road is our jurisdiction, and the following week they (Yuba City Police Department) had one on Franklin and Walton, but so far we haven’t come up with anything.”
Yuba City Police Department Lt. James Runyen said the department is investigating the incidents and advised that customers should report suspicious activity to the police.
“The robberies have similarities, but whether they are connected is still under investigation,” Runyen said in an email. “If you see something suspicious, notify law enforcement immediately and do not try to intervene.”
The Sacramento branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigations could not comment on the status of any investigations regarding pharmacy robberies in the area.
Law enforcement and pharmacy managers agree that safety is a concern during robberies.
Rajesh Wadhava, pharmacist manager at the Walgreens along Highway 20, said the safety of staff and customers is always important.
“We usually are obligated to listen to the commands, and do as they say,” Wadhava said. “We always presume that they are armed.”
Gill said there were no known weapons present in the Lincoln Road robbery, but said the robbers grabbed the pharmacist by the neck and forced her to the safe where certain controlled substances are kept.
Gill said one of the biggest “hurdles” with pharmacy security is the Walgreens surveillance system.
“It was just very poor quality,” Gill said. “I mean, even if the person was looking at the camera, you wouldn’t be able to recognize them.”
Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso said he couldn’t comment on specific safety procedures for Walgreens pharmacies, but said the organization frequently evaluates security for the safety of customers and staff.
“We do have numerous security procedures and policies in place, and we’re constantly evaluating them,” Caruso said.
The goal of pharmacy robbers is to be in and out of a store as quickly and with as many pharmaceuticals as possible. In an effort to delay robberies, allowing more time for law enforcement to arrive, Caruso said all California Walgreens pharmacies have been outfitted with “high secure time delay safes,” which are designed to prevent the immediate availability of locked pharmaceuticals.
“Once activated by a pharmacist, the safe is designed to remain locked for several minutes,” Caruso said. “And that removes the immediate availability of these items that are frequently targeted during robberies.”
Gill suggested that pharmacies could install a security gate, to prevent thieves from jumping behind the counter– as they did in all three recent robberies.
“This (robberies) is something the entire pharmacy industry continues to face,” Caruso said.
Gill encouraged anyone with information that could help identify the suspects to contact the sheriff’s office investigations unit at 822-7313.