BANGOR, Maine — Security guards are on patrol at area Rite Aid pharmacies, while company officials work with police on ways to deter desperate people in search of drugs from robbing the stores, Rite Aid spokeswoman Ashley Flower said Thursday.
With 54 pharmacy robberies so far this year, Maine is averaging more than one a week, according to Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
“It’s common for us to have individuals present — a security guard present — as we’re assessing the situation with the local authorities,” Flower said.
While the most recent Bangor pharmacy robbery happened at Walgreens on Dec. 4, four of the six pharmacy robberies in the Queen City this year have occurred at the Rite Aid pharmacy at the corner of Union and Fourteenth streets.
“We’re here just making a presence,” Seaboard Securities guard Jerry Lavertu, of Hampden, said while standing outside the Rite Aid.
Lavertu, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who served for 21 years, said other security guards are working a revolving schedule with the other area Rite Aid pharmacies in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Bucksport.
The goal is to “let them know somebody is here,” he said, referring to potential robbers.
Hampden resident Susan Cusson, who recently broke her arm in two places and had it in a sling on Thursday, said she is extremely happy with the additional security.
“I think they should have security because there is a lot of druggies out there and it would make me feel safer,” she said. “It’s scary to go into a pharmacy.”
Cusson said, in her opinion, Maine doctors over prescribe painkillers and with all the pharmacy robberies in the state, customers like her are ”afraid of walking out into the parking lot” with prescriptions in hand.
McKinney said pharmacy operators are taking steps to prevent robberies, including hiring security guards.
“All available tools and measures are being used in deterring individuals from going into pharmacies” to steal drugs, he said.
The drug addicts who turn to robbery are desperate and typically do so as a last resort, the MDEA director said.
“Either they cannot obtain their drugs because their supplier is out or they can’t come up with [the money to pay for them],” McKinney said.
They have a “different mindset” and are not thinking straight, which is one reason why so many are caught, he said. All pharmacies in Maine have video surveillance cameras, and some pharmacy operators use other techniques, including guards.
“A person driven by addiction is not going to be thinking about this,” McKinney said. “They are driven to get that drug, and that pharmacy has the drugs.”
Of the state’s 54 pharmacy robberies this year, 42 have ended with arrests, the MDEA director said. He said that is because pharmacy operators and law enforcement work together.
“It’s almost 78 percent. It’s a very high number,” McKinney said of the arrest rate. “Clearing of crimes is always a partnership. It’s never one single entity that solves a crime. It’s a partnership.”
Hiring of security guards is just one “example of a tactic we use,” Flower said of Rite Aid, which
has more than 60 locations in Maine.
“It’s a normal course of action for us given the situation as we are working to assess what is happening in Bangor,” she said.