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Pharmacy robberies down 82% thanks to new tech: Toronto police | CBC News

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Pharmacy robberies in the city are down 82 per cent in 2024 compared to this time last year thanks to new technology, Toronto police say.

Last year, a new mandate kicked in ordering all pharmacies to have time-delayed safes, which only open after a set-amount of time has passed after being unlocked. They are used to secure narcotics such as oxycodone, morphine, and codeine.

Now, Toronto police, the Ontario College of Pharmacists and the Ontario Pharmacists Association are celebrating the decrease in pharmacy robberies across the board. In Toronto, there have been 10 robberies so far this year, compared to 60 in the same time period in 2023.

“Pharmacy robberies were very lucrative. Each pill obtained was sold for profit, and there was an obvious demand,” said Toronto police Insp. Joseph Matys at a news conference on Wednesday. 

“Working together with our residents and our law enforcement and industry partners, we can make it harder for criminals to victimize our communities and ultimately make a safer and more secure Toronto for everyone.”

Matys said criminals would often use stolen vehicles during pharmacy robberies, which contributed to the auto theft crisis in the region. They would also put customers, staff and pharmacists in danger and would sell the drugs obtained in the illegal market, also adding on to the opioid crisis, he said. 

He confirmed police have received reports that criminals have left mid-break-in after realizing they can’t open the safe quickly.

“Criminals are after an easy target, and once they find out that these pharmacies have time-delayed safes, they go off,” he said.

Pharmacist hopes for boost in enforcement

More than 4,900 pharmacies now carry the technology in Ontario. 

James Morrison, the board chair of the Ontario College of Pharmacists, said the regulator first observed the technology’s effect in British Columbia and Alberta, which were the first provinces to implement it. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the latest to come on board.

But the technology works best when people know it’s in place, he added. That’s why all pharmacies must also post approved signs of their use at each public entrance and the pharmacy counter.

“As a pharmacist, I know many who have experienced the trauma of a pharmacy robbery first-hand,” said Morrison, adding staff become fearful to go to work because of the risk of robberies.

“The more people who are aware of the use of these safes, the greatest chances we can get this message to the eyes and ears of perpetrators.”

Kyro Maseh is an independent pharmacist who owns Lawlor Pharmasave in Toronto. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Kyro Maseh, a pharmacist and owner of Lawlor Pharmasave in Toronto, said he’s experienced two thefts in his pharmacy. He said he isn’t convinced perpetrators are facing stiff enough penalties to deter thefts in the first place. 

He said he hopes the efficacy of time-delayed safes comes with law enforcement targeting the “ring leaders” behind organized pharmacy robberies.

“I think that there will be a lot of people that will walk in and take their chances and wait for … however long it is for the time-delayed safe to open and then get what they want,” he said. 

“If there is no … strict action from law enforcement, you know, there’s not much to do.”

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