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Back to Archives | Back to September 2004 Contents 

A New Tool to Combat Pharmacy Theft

By Landon S. Gibbs, Assistant Director, Law Enforcement Liaison and Education, Purdue Pharma LP, Stamford, Connecticut


Photo
Photo © 1998 Photo Disc, Inc.

round 2:00 a.m., during a lonely patrol shift in eastern Kentucky, a deputy sheriff received a radio call about a pharmacy burglary alarm. The pharmacy is 14 miles from the deputy's location, but he knew the road and he knew his vehicle. He arrived at the pharmacy in less than 10 minutes, but the burglar was gone.

This burglar had climbed up to the top of the pharmacy, cut a hole in the roof, and dropped down to the floor. After breaking into the narcotics safe and removing all of the schedule 2 and 3 drugs, he fled through the rear door.

The opening of the door is what triggered the alarm. The deputy found footprints on the roof and pry marks on the safe but had very little else to go on. The deputy entered what little information he had into a new database called RxPatrol but had little hope of solving this crime.
A few weeks later, in western Virginia, police received a motion-alarm notification from a local pharmacy in the early morning hours. Officers stood waiting at the front and back entrances of the pharmacy within minutes. They arrested the burglar as he exited the rear of the pharmacy, stolen narcotics in hand.

An investigation by the city police revealed that the burglar had cut a hole in the roof of the pharmacy, pried opened the narcotics safe, and fled out the back door. The arresting officer completed his incident report and closed the case. But there was more to be done.

The Virginia officer's supervisor had also heard of RxPatrol and directed the officer to enter the burglary data into the database. Within hours, the officer received a call from the Kentucky deputy sheriff, and their joint investigation places the same burglar at both crime scenes. Now, two crimes are solved, instead of one. And the criminal faces substantial jail time in both states.

These two cases are fictitious, but they are representative of what happens when law enforcement agencies communicate and use RxPatrol to report robberies, burglaries, and other losses into this database.

What Is RxPatrol?
RxPatrol, or Rx Pattern Analysis Tracking Robberies and Other Losses, is a Web-based clearinghouse of information regarding crimes involving theft and other losses of prescription drugs that occur at pharmacies. Information is entered into the system by both law enforcement and pharmacy personnel. The information is collated and analyzed and then disseminated to authorized agencies. Information is entered via the Web site (www.rxpatrol.org).

Thefts from pharmacies have increased in the last several years. Robberies, burglaries, internal thefts, and prescription fraud rings are methods criminals are using to obtain drugs of abuse for personal use or for sale on the street.

In some areas of the country, armed robberies of pharmacies have created a sense of fear among pharmacists. Some pharmacies are refusing to carry certain medications, even though legitimate patients need them, because these medications are sought after by criminals.

And although law enforcement agencies are doing an admirable job of investigating these crimes, their resources are stretched to the limit. Law enforcement and pharmacy loss prevention managers realized there was no effective method to communicate details of this type of crime among jurisdictions or to collect, collate, and analyze these details if they were available.

So, with input from law enforcement, pharmacy loss prevention managers and the pharmaceutical industry, RxPatrol was born. J. Aaron Graham, a former Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration special agent and now a vice president of corporate security for Purdue Pharma LP, secured funding for RxPatrol.

How Does RxPatrol Work?
RxPatrol is designed to be a quick and easy way for law enforcement officers and pharmacists to enter information regarding a theft or loss into a clearinghouse, via a secure Internet site. The information will include data on the store, suspect description, method of operation, store security systems, items stolen, and weapons displayed or inferred. Any photos captured by security cameras and any notes passed on by the criminal can be sent to RxPatrol for analysis and dissemination.

Captain Richard Conklin, of the Stamford, Connecticut, Police Department, manages RxPatrol. Conklin is in charge of major case investigations in Stamford and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He also operates a consulting firm called Talon Inc., of which RxPatrol is a part. Conklin collects, collates, and analyzes the data. He searches for patterns and trends, similar suspects, and similar methods of operation. The information is then disseminated to law enforcement agencies with powers of arrest. The agencies are given contact information, so they may communicate among themselves about these investigations.

The aim is to help law enforcement agencies solve multiple crimes committed by the same persons. It should be noted that no company, agency, or person other than Captain Conklin currently has direct access to RxPatrol data.

New enhancements to the program allow law enforcement even more access to the data. At present, RxPatrol serves as a clearinghouse and pointer system to promote communications among agencies investigating pharmacy thefts.

The report form is simple; it features a drop-down menu with check boxes and contains a narrative section. Information submitted about the pharmacy includes data on security devices in place, point of entry, items taken, and police contact information. Information about the store will help pharmacies and pharmacy chains learn of any weak areas in their security and provide for target hardening. The Items Taken portion of the form can be printed out and used as an attachment to a police report, to reduce officer paperwork.

Once RxPatrol reviews and analyzes the information, the system disseminates the information through several outlets, including the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI). NADDI members are part of a computerized list to send and receive information directly from RxPatrol.

In addition, the NADDI Web site (www.naddi.org) has a direct link to the RxPatrol Web site to help both police and pharmacists locate the site and enter information. A second law enforcement venue is the Web site of the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association (FBI LEEDA).

At (www.leedafbi.org), there is also a direct link to RxPatrol. Incidentally, the FBI has statutory authority to investigate the robbery of any establishment that has a DEA registration to administer or distribute controlled substances (18 U.S.C. 2118).

Non–law enforcement agencies supporting RxPatrol are the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, the National Community Pharmacists Association, and the American Pharmacists Association. These organizations have a vested interest in supporting law enforcement's efforts to prevent and solve pharmacy crime.

RxPatrol will supply these groups with statistical data to make pharmacies harder targets. These vulnerability assessments, as well as suspect and incident profiles, allow pharmacists to proactively help themselves. This is useful information for loss prevention specialists and corporate security executives who wish to improve security at their stores. This information can also help law enforcement decision makers allocate patrol or prevention resources.

Success Stories
Agencies have had success using RxPatrol. Sergeant Bill Stivers of the Louisville, Kentucky, Police Department supervises a squad of officers dedicated to drug diversion investigations. He uses RxPatrol in conjunction with a local alert system he created to advise doctors, pharmacists, and emergency rooms of potential diversion scams. His alert system sends local pharmacists and doctors notices about persons wanted for diversion crime. RxPatrol can send out the information regionally or nationally, depending on the case.

"RxPatrol is an opportunity for police to be proactive in preventing and investigating this type of crime," Stivers said. "Communication with the medical community is the key to proactive work in this area."

In North Carolina, RxPatrol played a major role in the arrest of three suspects involved in the armed robbery of a pharmacy. In June 2003, three armed suspects entered a pharmacy in Durham, North Carolina. They went directly to the pharmacy area of the store and held the pharmacist at gunpoint. The suspects demanded that the pharmacist open the narcotics safe and hand over its contents, controlled prescription drugs worth more than $20,000. During the robbery, several store employees were held against their will.

Weeks later, Raleigh police arrested three suspects involved in prescription fraud at a local pharmacy. A search of the suspect's car revealed information from the Durham robbery. Raleigh Police posted the information on RxPatrol and were soon contacted by the Durham pharmacy's loss prevention agent. Raleigh police notified Durham police that they had an informant with information on the robbery.

Subsequent interviews and investigation by Raleigh and Durham police resulted in the arrest of three of the suspects, with a fourth being sought by police. These suspects may be charged in federal court, because weapons were involved in a drug-related crime and because the robbery of any establishment with a DEA registration is a federal offense.


RxPatrol was created and funded by Purdue Pharma LP, but it is designed to provide a nationwide service to law enforcement, pharmacists, and the pharmaceutical industry. It is an easy-to-use, no-cost way to help law enforcement solve more crimes, help pharmacies prevent this type of loss, and allow patients access to needed medications.


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From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 9, September 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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