In 2015, Wisconsin was ranked third in the nation for the largest number of pharmacy robberies. Attorney General Brad Schimel is trying to combat the trend with new training efforts, which were unveiled during a news conference Tuesday morning.
"It's dangerous to the people in the store, the pharmacists and staff," Schimel said.
Schimel said he was in his last years as district attorney for Waukesha County when the theft trend hit.
"We started seeing more and more individuals going into a pharmacy, walking all the way back to the counter, pointing a gun or some other weapon at the pharmacist or other staff, and demanding not the money but the drugs," Schimel said.
Having seen firsthand how the robberies affect pharmacies, Schimel is working hard to keep them from continuing.
"It's an irrational crime, because a pharmacy is a safe place," Schimel said.
A new program aims to keep pharmacies safe by providing training videos for staff, and encouraging the use of window signs, time delayed safes, cameras and monitors.
Schimel said they will start implementing the plan in the next few months. Pharmacies will soon be able to find training videos on the Department of Justice law enforcement and Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin secured websites.
"We did better in 2016, but this is still something we need to take very seriously when Wisconsin has more robberies in their pharmacies than California, Texas, Florida and New York," Schimel said.
'A problem for all of us'
Local pharmacist and owner of the Fitchburg Hometown Pharmacy, Thad Schumacher, said even though his store hasn't been robbed, it's still important to have procedures in place.
"As a provider out in the field, it can be scary to not know what's coming," Schumacher said. "I look forward to the chance to work with local law enforcement to see what can be done at our pharmacy."
The Madison Police Department is hopeful Schimel's plan will help fight the drug epidemic in Dane County.
"Any of those things that they can do and then we can come together as a community to address this problem is what needs to happen," Officer Dan Swanson said.
Swanson works in MPD's Special Investigation Unit and tracks overdose cases daily, mostly caused by heroin or prescription narcotics. He warns there is a problem in our community.
"In 2013, we had 158 overdoses that the fire department and police department responded to. Then in 2016, we had over 400," Swanson said.
So far in 2017, Swanson has tracked 50 overdose cases, and that number rises every day.
He said the department hasn't seen thefts from pharmacies in the last two years, but it remains a concern as drug abuse numbers increase.
"This is no longer a pharmacy problem. This is no longer a law enforcement problem. This is no longer solely a public health problem. This is a problem for all of us," Swanson said.
Swanson said MPD's next step to battle drug abuse is offering more treatment opportunities to addicts. The department's new program, Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative, will begin early this summer. It will allow officers to offer some drug users treatment instead of facing arrest.
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