A Pharmacy Owner’s Guide to Retail Theft

First Financial Bank
Retail theft is a serious problem in stores across industries, and the scale of the issue might surprise you.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, more than $45 million worth of retail merchandise is stolen every day. To put that in perspective, inventory shrinkage caused by internal and external theft costs the U.S. retail industry more than $49 billion annually.

What are the odds that your pharmacy could be a victim of such theft? According to a recent report, the probability of any one pharmacy being victimized by a burglary, robbery, or employee diversion hovers around 14%. With controlled substances in your inventory, the stakes are higher than just the cost of the inventory item. You have responsibilities dictated by regulation.

There are steps you can take to help prevent retail theft in your independent pharmacy. Below we’ve highlighted some insights into the scope of retail crime plus loss prevention measures that you can take to help protect you and your business.

Understanding and Preventing Internal Theft

When you imagine a potential thief entering your pharmacy, you might conjure up a certain image; an unknown masked figure dressed all in black dashing through your store, snatching prescriptions and other shelved items before hastily making their escape. Unfortunately, criminals are often closer to home than you might think.

Depending on the research source, employee and internal theft is ranked either as the first or second leading cause of retail shrinkage. In the pharmacy, employee theft can have serious consequences. Since a pharmacy is responsible for dispensing and filling medications, including controlled substances, you are also responsible for securing them.

According to a 2017 report, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians were involved in 6.65% and 5.26% (respectively) of cases of drug diversion. The motivation for drug diversion ranges widely. Perpetrators may be substance abusers or make money reselling the drugs on the street. Utilizing employee screening in the hiring process can be one way to identify potential red flags as you verify technician licenses, check references, confirm previous employment and conduct drug screening.

Establishing and clearly communicating policies can help employees understand the impact that stealing can have on both their professional and personal lives, from getting fired for cause up to incarceration. Training is essential. Help them see that they are better off being honest than giving in to theft. Help them understand how to work effectively and follow guidelines that you establish that can help prevent theft.

Shoplifting is a leading cause of inventory shrinkage.

Understanding and Preventing External Theft

Accounting for nearly 36% of shrink, shoplifting is an umbrella term that describes a variety of activities and perpetrators, ranging from a straightforward thief who stuffs shelf items into their pockets to more sophisticated criminals who swipe items to return for store credit/cash or break into spaces – even carry weapons.

The Pharmacists Mutual Crime Report describes how shoplifters may strike and measures you can take to limit the extent of the theft. The logic is simple: the more barriers you can put in place to deter would-be criminals, the better. Visible deterrents like obvious video surveillance systems, alarms, good lighting to help alert employees, while signaling to criminals that your pharmacy is a “hardened target” that will take considerable energy and planning to penetrate. Certain tools, such as a good safe for the pharmacy among other measures can also help secure and prevent loss that occurs after hours.

Even though investing in security measures might seem costly, it’s likely worth your while. Stolen inventory translates into reduced cash flow, foregone sales, and in the most serious of cases, potentially lost patients. It also means lost time spent restocking, managing insurance claims, and dealing with employee and patient unease. And depending on circumstances, potential for liability if the pharmacy is not deemed compliant with the federal guidelines or your state’s regulations for the handling of controlled substances. Avoid these hassles by keeping your pharmacy’s physical security up-to-date.


Retail theft is an unfortunate reality of doing business that can impact your margins, adding another challenge in today’s already competitive business environment. With the pandemic causing more financial need and tempting people to shoplift, along with the ongoing opioid epidemic, pharmacies continue to find themselves targets of not only standard retail crime, but more drug diversion as well.

As a pharmacy owner, the best thing you can do to secure your business is to understand the threat of retail theft and take appropriate measures to reduce your risk. Start “at home” by looking for employees who have demonstrated integrity and honesty, as these will be indicators of how they’ll behave in your store setting. A good team, with the right training and guidance, can be one step towards preventing inventory shrinkage.

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