INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana has an unfortunate distinction.
The state leads the nation in the number of pharmacy robberies.
To date, there have been 139 pharmacy robberies in Indianapolis, according to authorities. The methods are usually similar: suspects walk in with a threatening note demanding Oxycontin, Oxycodone or some other pain medication and often walk out with thousands of dollars worth of pills. CVS, Walgreens and other family-owned pharmacies all have been targeted within the past year.
Authorities aren’t sure what’s causing them, but one theory among law enforcement is that Indiana’s struggle with heroin and opiate-based medications has fueled a black-market demand for more pills on the streets.
“The rate that they are happening now is unacceptable, so we definitely want to work hard to reduce those numbers,” said Lt. Craig McCartt with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
The figures show no signs of slowing down, which is worrisome to both past and current CVS employees.
“It’s sad when we go to work day in and day out, we fear for our lives,” said one CVS former employee, who asked that her identity be withheld. “I would like for CVS to care more about its employees versus their profit-making ability. We’ve been screaming for years for protection.”
The woman, who agreed to speak on a condition her name and position not be revealed, said she was a CVS employee up until a few weeks ago. She says she is no longer with the company.
“It’s kinda like walking into a war zone. Every customer – and we shouldn’t feel this way — but every customer is a suspect,” she said.
Last week, CVS added time-delay safes to all 150 Indianapolis-area stores in an effort to pare down the high number of robberies. It’s a mechanism that CVS’s competitor, Walgreens, adopted more than a year ago. Phil Caruso, a Walgreens spokesman, told I-Team 8 by phone that the company has seen a decline in general in the number robberies since the devices were installed. Walgreens currently has them in 13 states.
Before accessing the medications, pharmacists must first active the safes, which are on timers and can take several minutes to open. The hope from CVS officials and law enforcement is that would-be robbers will become frustrated and leave. Such has been the case in at least one robbery attempt earlier this summer at a Walgreens near downtown Indianapolis. In that case, police records show the pharmacists told the suspect that the safe was “on a timer and that it could take awhile.” The report notes that the suspect “then took the note and left.”
Other current CVS employees who spoke to I-Team 8 by phone declined to be interviewed on camera or identified out of fear of retaliation from the company. But some said the robberies are worrisome. Others wondered why it CVS took so long to act.
At least three past employees told I-Team 8 they either quit or were let go as a direct result of the robberies.
During interviews last week with CVS company officials, they acknowledged that the high number of robberies were concerning, but that customer and employee safety were “a number one priority.”
“Our highest priority is the safety of our colleagues and our customers. We are going to do everything within our power and our resources to deter these robberies,” said Michael Silveira, CVS Vice President of Loss Prevention.
CVS has added the time-delay safes in all its Indianapolis-area stores and is considering adding them in other states.
“This was one (measure) that we had considered very carefully and based on the study, we feel it’s the right thing for us to do at this point,” Michael Silveira, CVS Vice President of Loss Prevention, said during a recent exclusive interview with I-Team 8.
But Walgreens added the devices to its stores in 13 states more than a year ago, which has led some CVS employees to question why it took so long.
When asked about this, Silveira said: “Well, we have a number of different protocols that we employ and after studying and revisiting our protocols we considered time-delay and figured it was time to do it after a careful study.”
During the past year, an I-Team 8 analysis found CVS pharmacies have been robbed more than 80 times, compared to more than 30 robberies at Walgreens stores in the Indianapolis area, which already have the time-delay safes. CVS regional pharmacy supervisor, Kara Williams, says that she think the time-delay safes – in conjunction with security officers and high-definition security cameras – will work to reduce the number of robberies.
“Potential robbers like to get in and out as quickly as possible. With time-delay safes we will not have access to our narcotic medications on demand, there will be a wait period, which we’ve seen through studies has been a significant deterrent.”
The former CVS employee said she worries suspects will just become frustrated.
“I don’t know about a time delay. To me, if I’m a bad guy, it is just going to frustrate me. To me, CVS just needs to step up and put the proper safety mechanisms in place.”
In her mind, that would include armed security officers.
Lt. Craig McCartt with IMPD said he thinks the new devices will aid in the effort to reduce these crimes, but acknowledges that placing armed off-duty guards at every pharmacy is unlikely given the current IMPD staffing levels.
“CVS and Walgreens have both been a great team in trying to put some policies and procedures in place to reduce the chances that their places are going to be victimized,” McCartt said.
But he acknowledged there could be some limitations, and police records show the robberies still continue. I-Team 8 found there have been at least three in the past week – including at two Walgreens locations and a third privately-owned pharmacy.
“There’s no perfect answer — minus shutting every pharmacy down — we are not going to stop them completely,” Lt. McCartt said.
I-Team 8 has created an interactive database which shows the dates and locations of each robberies, which can be found by clicking here.
As of September 8, there had been approximately 139 pharmacy robberies in the Indianapolis area, records show.
An I-Team 8 investigation has found that in many of the cases the suspects have walked in armed with only a threatening note and made off with thousands of dollars worth of prescription pills. At a robbery last month at a CVS pharmacy along East Washington Street, a police report notes the suspect made off with more than $6,000 worth of pills. Another one in early May along East 38th Street shows the suspect made off with $10,000 worth of pills, according to police records.
“Many of these notes have essentially a laundry list of what they want, so they don’t have to remember anything. I just think it’s simple for them.” McCartt said.