Robberies of pharmacies to gain illegal access to prescription painkillers and other drugs have increased this year, with Indiana outpacing other states, crime data shows.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency data shows 382 armed robberies of pharmacies nationwide from January through May, or about 76 per month, up by about seven per month over last year,
Indiana recorded 68 pharmacy robberies during those five months, compared with 78 during all of 2014, the DEA data showed. Wisconsin ranked second this year with 32 robberies through May.
Experts attribute the increase to the pain of opiate withdrawal and black-market demand for drugs. The most common narcotics stolen are opiate pain medication or benzodiazepines, which are psychoactive drugs, The Journal Gazette reported.
"If you don't have the substance, you get sick, you experience vomiting, you feel like you have the flu," said Oscar Vásquez, a licensed addictions counselor and director of Center for Solutions, a halfway house in Fort Wayne.
Stores have taken preventive steps including time-locked safes and safety glass windows for transactions.
Pharmacy outlets are sharing information among themselves and with law enforcement about robberies and tactics so they can better prepare and respond to those crimes, said Kroger spokesman John Elliot.
Some robberies are committed by people addicted to medication, while others are part of an organized retail crime group, he said.
"The more we know about how these robberies are happening, the more we can take preventative action," Elliott said.
Adjusting camera angles and training staff are part of the effort, Elliott said. He declined to share details about other security measures.
Representatives for CVS, Walgreens and Meijer declined to comment, citing the need to keep their security measures confidential.
Deputy Chief Paul Shrawder, head of the Fort Wayne Police Department's investigative and support division, said bulletproof glass windows for transactions would be ideal. That prevents the robber from being able to access the medication and allows a safe place for employees to call for police.
"Nobody wants to get hurt over some bottles of pills," Shrawder said.