Codeine-seeking customer turns armed robber

Calanna Pharmacy Aitkenvale. Image: Google Maps

Crime against pharmacy is likely to increase when codeine becomes prescription-only, says the manager of a pharmacy that was robbed this week

A repeat difficult customer—well-known to the pharmacy for codeine-seeking behaviour—allegedly returned earlier this week to steal controlled drugs.

“We have a door that locks between the hours of 5pm and 10pm, and people have to press the doorbell to get entry to the pharmacy,” says Katrina Faint, manager of the Calanna Pharmacy in Aitkenvale, Townsville.

“The front of shop lady was out the front of the store serving customers. You can’t see from there who presses the buzzer, and sometimes it’s just a normal reaction to press it and let people in.

“So she let him in, the robber entered the building with a mask on and told her to ‘hit the deck,’ and the other customer to get down the back.”

The pharmacy assistant was badly shocked by this experience but still sneaked into the pharmacy’s private area for mother-and-baby consultations, and dialled 000.

“Although she said she was very shocked and scared she said she found it within herself to do that – I’m very proud of her,” Ms Faint says.

The robber then went to the back counter and asked the pharmacist for drugs; upon being given pseudoephedrine-containing OTCs he threw them back at her and said he wanted something else.

“He then said he had a gun and wasn’t scared to use it,” Ms Faint said.

The man demanded dexamphetamine, oxycontin and MS Contin as well as a sharps kit, and left the store once they had been given to him.

Ms Faint said that when she reviewed security footage alongside police, she recognised the man straight away.

“I was yelling out his name to the sergeant as soon as I watched it,” she told the AJP. “He’s been coming in here making a menace of himself for quite a while.

“We’ve actually called 000 on him once before, because he was paying people to come and get tablets for him – his usage of Nurofen Plus is ridiculous.”

On the earlier occasion, the man had been refused Nurofen Plus when he attempted to pay other customers to obtain it for him.

“He was desperate,” Ms Faint says. “There’s other stuff he’s also taking ridiculous amounts of, and he didn’t want help. Every single time he’d come in and we’d reject a sale, he would get very agitated and start arguing with us.

“We’d tell him it’s our duty of care not to sell it to him, and to go to the doctor. He’d say, ‘You have a duty of care to sell it to me because I need it’.”

Ms Faint warns that crime against pharmacy will increase after 1 February 2018, when codeine is upscheduled, and urges pharmacies to start taking added precautions now.

“As soon as codeine goes S4 drugs are going to get bad,” she says. “Ice will get bad, and doctors’ surgeries will get clogged up. There’s always something – one drug replaces another, whether it be codeine or pseudoephedrine or street drugs.

“It’s a matter of being vigilant and putting in preventive measures now that will help us in the future, such as a monitor out the front so that we can be aware of who is at the door, instead of letting anyone in.

“Everyone needs to take these precautions now, and maybe do some reassessing of the procedure when it comes to holdups. That’s what I’m going to be doing while it’s fresh in our minds, without being negative about it.”

Police located a man a short time after the robbery and have charged him with one count each of armed robbery and enter premises with intent.

Ms Faint said that nobody was physically injured but that the pharmacy and police are working to get access to counselling for the pharmacy assistant.

Pharmacists who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

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