Your oxys or your life! - (10/27/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The new pharmacist came on board this past week. He was explaining to the pharmacy owner the rules previous employers had for handling narcotics during a robbery. “One of my bosses wanted all narcotics in a locked safe at all times. This safe had one of those tricky combinations. You know, turn clockwise twice until you get to 20, then go counterclockwise 3 times and stop at 13, blah blah. I could feel the gunman’s revolver against my temple as I tried to remember the “secret code.” But my employer insisted on the safe being locked. ‘Do you know how much time goes into reporting all the missing drugs to the FDA? I don’t have time for that, he said.’” The owner assured the nervous pharmacist that the store does not have a safe. Rather, narcotics are dispersed among the other drugs on the back shelves. 

“Do you have a gun on the premises?” asked the new pharmacist. Before the store owner could answer, the newbie told of the time he reached under the counter for a stapler and pulled up a hand revolver. “The rusty gun looked like it was from World War 2,” he exclaimed. “And then, I had a boss who kept an aluminum baseball bat next to the shredder. I guess the idea was to knock the robber’s block off once he got within five feet of the pharmacist.” The owner guaranteed the new pharmacist that – except for a raggedy old flyswatter – no guns, baseball bats, machetes, or other weapons existed in his store.  

As nervous as the new pharmacist appeared, he had a good point: Robbers are after drugs as much – if not more – than money. One can always hold up a liquor store or a gas station to thieve something as humdrum as cash. Drug stores have benzos, bennies, oxys, 357s, and more! Why are pills such a valuable commodity when street heroin, the preferred kick, is cheaper and easier to get? Pills are attractive to the novice addict, especially the younger ones. And the pushers get a pretty penny for them. StreetRx ( is a novel program that identifies and tracks the street value of prescription and illicit drugs. For example, you can find out what a 5 mg oxycodone tablet currently costs in Denver ($7) compared to Detroit ($5). Adderall 10 mg sells for $10 a pill in Salt Lake City, Utah, compared to $45 in the Maryland suburbs. 

Typically, the masked man is an addict himself and often desperate to score what he needs. Usually, the perpetrator works alone and has already “cased” the store. His adrenaline is up while the amount of drug in his blood is in free fall. The last thing one wants to do in this situation is to cause a rootin’ tootin’ shoot-out. So have this tattooed on your forehead: Do not whip out a gun or any other weapon. Always assume that the robber is packing heat even though he may not flash it. In any event, the safest plan is to give him what he wants and step on it! 

According to drug addiction experts, the pill-addicted robber is not factoring in the consequences of his actions. Sandi Kuehn, president of the Center for Addiction Treatment in Cincinnati, Ohio, said, “When you’re addicted, you don’t think with the frontal cortex of your brain, so they’re not reasoning why they should do this or why they should not do this.” Thus, combating the robber to protect your (insured) pills is a futile and sometimes fatal mistake. Pharmacies today have cameras, silent alarm systems, time-delay safes, and other technologies to deter the criminal. As the store owner told the new pharmacist, “Warning signs and cameras are on display. The goal is not to have a bad guy come into the store at all. If he does, the object is to get him out fast to save your butt and to make sure your staff gets home that night fully intact. The guy will get caught.” 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.


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