NIAGARA FALLS, NY- Pharmacies are taking extreme and expensive measures to protect themselves from robbers looking to score prescription drugs.
Jamie Latko, pharmacist and owner of Niagara Apothecary in Niagara Falls, said everyday she hears of another drugstore being robbed. She is a victim herself. She said since 2005 they've had three robberies and two attempted robberies. In one case the robber had a gun, and in another he held a machete to a customer's neck.
"You get this adrenaline rush and all you can think about is the safety of everyone around you and I just told everybody, 'Listen to him, give him what he wants, and get him out of here,'" said Latko.
The job of a pharmacist is so much more than just counting pills nowadays. It's about staying safe in a dangerous industry in which prescription drug abuse is an epidemic.
"You're dealing with someone that's on drugs. So they're not rational, they're not clearly thinking. All they know is they need a quick fix and you have what they want and they'll do whatever they have to do to get it," Latko said.
Sunday State Police arrested a man accused of holding up a CVS pharmacy in Sanborn Friday. 27-year-old Nicholas Patterson ran from police at his home, and when he was caught, troopers say they found prescription drugs on him. Patterson is facing charges of robbery in the first degree, a class B felony, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree and resisting arrest, class A misdemeanors.
Latko is doing whatever she has to do to protect her employees and customers. They've got bars on the windows, high-tech security cameras, steel doors that come down at night, and a gun-carrying off duty police officer standing guard.
"No one is allowed in the building or to walk out of the building without a guard here at all times," said Latko.
Latko estimates the losses from the thefts have totaled over $50,000. But the security comes at a price. Every year she's spending another $50,000 just to keep the store safe.
"We're going to need to make more of a profit to keep it going," she said.
Soon, New York's new I-STOP bill will take effect, resulting in a real-time database that gives physicians information on a patient's prescription history before prescribing the most powerful and addictive drugs- like Hydrocodone and Oxycodone. Latko supports the law, but she's also afraid it'll make her job even more dangerous.
"Once the legal drugs are taken off the street these people have no other way of getting it so it becomes a bigger security issue," said Latko.
Drug Enforcement Administration statistics show that armed pharmacy robberies involving controlled substances in the United States increased to 688 in 2010, up by 79% from 2006.