Crime is rising, readers say

Pharmacists believe violent crime against pharmacy is rising – but is it?

A significant majority of pharmacists believe that violent crime is rising in the sector—including many who have not been targets, an AJP poll has found.

Internationally, pharmacy sectors have been crying out about the amount of crime they experience. Earlier this year, the Irish Times reported that pharmacy is at “crisis level” when it comes to experiencing violent crime.

In the US, crime associated with the opioid epidemic is also a significant problem, highlighted in the state of Indiana, for a time the US’ pharmacy robbery capital.

In Australia, one pharmacist who was attacked by alleged shoplifters last year called for better protections for pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, similar to those available to other health professionals.

And since our poll was launched, the manager of a pharmacy that was robbed by a repeat codeine-seeking customer warned us that crime would get worse when codeine is upscheduled.

It looks like AJP readers agree.

At the time of writing, 43% of pharmacists who responded told us that their store had been a target of violent crime.

And interestingly, 26% of respondents said they hadn’t been a target, but that they felt crime against pharmacy is growing, adding up to a significant majority of 69% agreeing that crime is increasingly a problem.

Seventeen per cent had been targeted but didn’t feel crime was rising, while 13% were not targets and didn’t feel crime was rising.

Kay Dunkley, from the Pharmacists’ Support Service, told the AJP that she’s not convinced the perception reflects reality.

“There’s been a lot of publicity about crime against health professionals lately, and some situations in Victoria where doctors have been attacked,” she said, citing the case of heart surgeon Dr Patrick Pritzwald-Stegman, who was the victim of a coward punch assault at a Melbourne hospital.

“Certainly health professionals are dealing with people who are unwell, and who can react unpredictably. And of course pharmacies are targets for robbery, because of their extended opening hours and as well as having cash, they also have things that are saleable on the black market.

“But I don’t know if there’s any evidence to show an increase in crime against pharmacy, though there’s certainly more publicity about it.”

Ms Dunkley encouraged pharmacists to contact the PSS on 1300 244 910 if they are distressed about an incident or about the possibility of becoming a victim of crime.

She also offered some tips for handling a crisis if it occurs.

“Obviously, if you have someone who comes in to commit a crime, staff safety is paramount,” she says.

“It’s always good to have had a review by your insurer around your safety procedures in terms of having systems in place before something happens.”

She suggested using an alarm or “panic button” to alert police to a robbery taking place.

“The layout of the shop is also important,” Ms Dunkley says. “That’s about not necessarily having things that are attractive on display.

“Adequate staffing is important, and when people leave at night, walk out in pairs, not alone.

“Generally, have an awareness of the risks, and have a plan in place. If it does occur, you have, say, a warning or code word that you can use between staff to alert them that somebody’s behaving suspiciously so that you can carry out that plan.”

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