DIDSBURY — Having mandatory time-delayed safes in all Alberta pharmacies effective today (July 1) is a good move that should help protect staff and customers, says Brad Blatz, the owner and pharmacist at Didsbury Value Drug Mart.
“It’s necessary, unfortunately,” said Blatz.
“Pharmacy robberies have been getting far more frequent in the last several years, but in particular in the last, probably, 18 months,” he said.
“Being that it is a universal mandate for all pharmacies, and of course with awareness campaigns and signage and everything else, everyone will become aware that it is just automatic that all pharmacies have time-delay. It just creates a deterrent.”
The safes will be used to store narcotics and other high-risk drugs.
The Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP) updated in January its standards for the operation of licensed pharmacies to include the new requirement. Pharmacies have been given until next month to have the time-delayed safes in place.
The new requirement follows extensive consultations with law enforcement in response to a significant increase in pharmacy robberies throughout the province, ACP president Peter Macek said in a press release.
“These incidents can be terrifying for pharmacy team members and the public, many of whom suffer physical and emotional trauma during an armed robbery,” Macek said.
“In many instances, a significant amount of violence has been used by the perpetrators, and pharmacy team members have reported being bound, threatened with weapons and physically assaulted,” he added.
“We’re hopeful that the requirement of using time-delayed safes, combined with other security efforts, will help prevent robberies and make pharmacies and our communities safe.”
While most pharmacy robberies occur in larger centres, “rural is not immune by any means,” Blatz said. “It is certainly something that can affect any pharmacy in Alberta, including rural.”
Time-delayed safes in other jurisdictions have proven very successful in deterring pharmacy robberies, he said.
“They’ve done it in B.C. already and I know in lots of jurisdictions in the U.S. and it has dramatically decreased the incidents of day-time robberies when there is staff and customers in the store,” he said.
“B.C. in particular has found that if someone entered a pharmacy and attempted a robbery and found there was a time delay, they would just take off. They would just leave and find another target.
“So, the idea of having a universal time-delay in every pharmacy is that there would be no easier target because everybody would be the same.”
Individual pharmacy owners will be picking up the cost of the new safes, either through upgrade or new purchase.
Pharmacies will be posting signage at all entrances and at pharmacy counters advertising the use of the time-delayed safes.
The ACP is also encouraging pharmacy owners to take additional security measures, including installing video surveillance and alarm systems as well as limiting the amount of narcotics and other high-risk drugs in stock at their respective facilities.
The ACP worked with RCMP, the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association working group, Calgary and Edmonton police services, and other stakeholders to help address the recent spike in robberies.
Michael McCauley is the officer-in-charge of engagement and outreach for the Alberta RCMP.
“By bringing together the expertise of the province’s major police forces, the pharmacy working group continues to work towards ensuring the safety of Alberta’s pharmacy staff and their patients,” said McCauley.
Regarding the process of setting the time on the safes, Blatz said that is up to the individual pharmacy.
“Five minutes is the minimum but they are suggesting to kind of set it according to what a typical police response time would be,” Blatz said. “So you would literally have no choice but to wait that time to even get into the vault, to get what they are asking for.”
“If someone would happen to come in and attempt a robbery, the pharmacy staff would have no choice but to wait the set amount of time, whether that’s five minutes or ten minutes or whatever the pharmacy would choose to set it at.”
As far as the cost of upgrading existing safes to make they time-delay capable or purchasing a new safe, the costs vary widely.
“An upgrade is reasonable. We had a fairly robust narcotic safe already, so all we really had to do was upgrade the locking mechanism itself and it was, I think, less than $500 including the labour,” he said.
“It’s not too cost prohibitive for most pharmacies, considering the alternative. It’s a cheap investment for that kind of peace of mind.”