Growing concern among Toronto pharmacists as armed robberies spike

Nov 15, 2022

According to a CTV News Investigation, armed robberies targeting Toronto-area pharmacies have more than doubled over the past year, due to gangs searching for drugs to sell. Furthermore, it has been shown that the revenue generated by selling stolen pills has been driving other crimes, including carjacking, while introducing more dangerous opioids to the illicit drug supply.

Pharmacists across Ontario have reported robberies nearly every day and sometimes, multiple times a day.

In addition, Toronto Police have reported 49 investigations of pharmacy robberies in 2021 in their jurisdiction compared to 101 pharmacy robberies so far in 2020.

“We have definitely seen an increase this year,” Insp. Rich Harris said in his interview with CTV News Toronto in an interview, adding that robberies often involve targeting pills such as Percocets rather than cash due to their high resale value. “When we’re making arrests we’re getting vast amounts of product back. Which means they are selling it.”

Insp. Harris also said that while it is currently unclear what precisely is driving the surge, he said, one potential factor could be an increase in the price of the stolen pills. “What drives the prices up is the demand. There’s a clear demand for it and we’re seeing an increase in those robberies,” he said. In addition, he said that 38% of the robberies in 2022 have been cleared by way of arrest.

“Retail crime and that includes pharmacy robberies specifically continues to be a problem nationwide,” said Angeline Ng, of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

“In Ontario, we have the largest pharmacy losses of opioids and that includes things like codeine, fentanyl and hydromorphone and oxycodone,” said Angeline Ng, of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. “These drugs are then introduced onto the street and sold for illicit use and helps fuel the opioid crisis that we have here in Canada.”

Currently, Toronto Police are working on tracking more thieves and giving recommendations for security measures for pharmacists, including security cameras. According to CTV News Toronto, some pharmacy proprietors have spent more than $50,000 on renovations to create buzzer systems and even bulletproof glass.

However, some pharmacists also worry that adding many security measures to pharmacies will drive patients away — making it more difficult to take care of their needs.

“This is now happening on a daily basis. It can’t keep going like this. It needs to stop,” said Michael Malak, an Etobicoke pharmacist. Currently, Malak is considering leaving his profession after his store was robbed last by a group of masked men who rushed in and demanded specific narcotics. “I don’t know what to do at this point. It’s scary coming to work.”