May 24, 2018
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‘Not today’ comment by pharmacist to would-be robber brave, risky

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Not today!

Face it, we’ve all made that proclamation a time or two, whether at home to kids or spouses or at work to an irritating colleague.

Of course, most of us haven’t done so to a man standing before us suggesting he had a gun and demanding drugs.

That is, of course, what the pharmacist at the Rite Aid in Pittsfield did on Tuesday.

When the would-be robber walked into the store at 11 a.m. and handed over the note saying he had a gun and wanted drugs, it was the third time an area Rite Aid had been robbed in just over a month. The other two were in neighboring Newport on Aug. 16 and Sept. 15.

On Tuesday this pharmacist was having none of it.

“Not today,” she said.

And with that, the husky fellow with his face covered by a yellow-and-blue bandanna simply turned and walked out the door.

It’s a great story.

Worthy of at least one movie scene.

Most of us had no idea who the pharmacist was, what she looked like, how old she was or her personal history.

But some of us spent at least a minute or two imagining it.

I did. And in my head she was a middle-aged, menopausal women, navigating her way through a new world of hot flashes, irritability and sleeplessness.

Never mind why it was that scenario I came up with.

Police have arrested a Dixmont couple and charged them with the Newport robberies and suspect they also are responsible for Tuesday’s fiasco in Pittsfield.

Many of you who commented on the story on the BDN website also admired the pharmacist’s spunk and courage. It’s a good story, especially since Tuesday’s attempted robbery was the 40th to occur in the state this year.

But, of course, the reality is that the brave pharmacist took a chance that almost any seasoned law enforcement officer would say is not worth taking.

“I assume she might get sent to a refresher course on how to deal with such a circumstance,” one law enforcement officer said, “because it is not at all what they are instructed to do.”

Armed robberies of pharmacies have skyrocketed throughout the country, and some have turned deadly. While none has in Maine, it is that exact concern that has pharmaceutical officials and police scurrying to find ways to combat the growing, dangerous trend.

On June 19, 2011, a pharmacist, a clerk and two customers were killed during an armed robbery in Medford, N.Y. Last year, a pharmacist in Oklahoma City was convicted of murder in the death of a 16-year-old who tried to rob his store. On New Year’s Eve, a federal agent picking up his father’s cancer medication at a pharmacy was accidentally killed by a retired police officer during a robbery attempt at the pharmacy. The suspect also was killed.

Last May, a pharmacist in Wheeling, W. Va., shot and killed an armed man trying to rob his store. The shooting was deemed justifiable. In September 2010, a 27-year-old store clerk was shot to death after a gunfight broke out when two armed robbers held up a pharmacy in North Highland, Calif. Last week, a pharmacist in New Jersey fired his gun at a man trying to rob the store. No one was hurt, but the pharmacist immediately expressed regret for firing the gun, saying, “I could have hit a child.”

Tapes from surveillance cameras at pharmacies around the country have made their way onto the Internet and show pharmacists chasing would-be robbers away with pepper spray and guns.

Clearly, being a pharmacist is not what it used to be.

Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, said this week that the threat of armed robbery can take its toll on employees.

“It used to be it was more of a concern at banks, but now pharmacy employees are in the same, if not worse, position,” he said. “Having a note passed to you by a person claiming to have a gun is an upsetting thing, whether you see a gun or not.”

The day after Tuesday’s robbery in Pittsfield, law enforcement officers and pharmacy officials met again, continuing to seek ways to lessen the threat and to keep pharmacy employees and customers safe.

But in truth, the real solution likely lies with the 17-member Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, which is charged with trying to find a way to get a grip on the exploding prescription drug abuse problem in the state.

In the meantime, pharmacists, employees and customers need to be vigilant and smart, but not heroes. If not, unfortunately today just may be the day when more than a bottle full of pills is lost.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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