Pharmacy armed robberies rise, workers more cautious

By: Angela Starke Email
By: Angela Starke Email

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - The number of armed robberies at pharmarcies is on the rise nationwide - and here in Tennessee.

A new report shows there were 35 armed robberies at pharmacies in our state in 2009. Last year, the number increased slightly. Law enforcement officials say it's because more people are addicted to prescription drugs like Vicodin.

And the pharmacists and technicians who work the counters are becoming more cautious.

Connie Wilkinson is a certified pharmacy technician who loves her job but has had recent concerns about its dangers.

"Before, you'd worry they'd run out of the store with Valium and now you worry they come in with guns," said Wilkinson.

She knows because she's lived through an armed robery at work.

"At first you think its a joke. They come streaming through the door and have got these screen masks on and guns, and 'on the f ---ing ground everybody now. The whole time you're thinking: Please don't kill me, please don't pull the trigger. Take whatever you want."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says the number of armed robberies at pharmacies is on the rise. While some stores like Walgreen's have installed time-lock security cabinets making it difficult to get drugs like Oxycontin - police are still busy trying to handle the threat.

"Unfortunately, society has gotten addicted to some pain medication," said Blount County Sheriff James Berrong.

He believes some of the robberies come after shutting down pain clinics where people had been getting their pill fill.

"The people are still addicted to that and the supply has been cut off, and they're desperate. And desperate people do stupid things or desperate things," the sheriff said.

According to the DEA, in 2010 Tennessee ranked fourth in the nation for pharmacy armed robberies - just behind Florida and California, which have nearly three to six times the population. Indiana was third.
Wilkinson is not surprised at the numbers.

"When they're coming in to rob you - if you smile and say welcome to wherever - they're coming in to rob you."

A reality she and other pharmacists now have to face daily.

In 2009, there were 35 armed robberies at pharmacies in our state. Overall, from 2006 to 2010, the number of pills stolen in the U.S. went from 706,000 to nearly 1.3 million.

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