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Demand for narcotics, cough syrup behind 49% increase in pharmacy break-ins

Pucci's Pharmacy in Sacramento was robbed for $30,000 worth of pills 3 years ago. The thieves were never caught, and the store has been broken into 5 times since.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Shocking security video shows two thieves on a mission. They're armed with crowbars, spending minutes prying open the door of Pucci's Pharmacy in Midtown Sacramento.

That night, they were on a burglary spree, allegedly hitting up several area pharmacies. At Pucci's they got away with $30,000 worth of pills.

Pucci's owner Clint Hopkins said it's been three years since that burglary, the thieves haven't been caught. Meanwhile, his store has been broken into five times since.

"It's harder to get those drugs on the street with prescription, so they just break in and take them," Hopkins said. 

These types of crimes are on the rise in the Golden state.

California pharmacy break-ins have increased by 49% in between 2015 and 2018, from 114 break-ins to 265, according to data from the state's Board of Pharmacy. 

Credit: TEGNA - The Tank
This graphic shows the increase in pharmacy robberies over the years, according to data collected by the state Board of Pharmacy.

When it comes to robberies and armed robberies, the state reported more than 260 cases in 2018, which shows an increase of 132% over the same three years.

"Any time we see an uptick in robberies, we pay attention to that," said Placer County Sheriff's Lt. Andrew Scott.

Investigators told ABC10 that they've noticed the trend. Pharmacies big and small are being targeted, and they're asking people to stay alert and report suspicious activity.


A suspect recently jumped over the counter at a Walgreens in Auburn, claimed to have a gun, and forced the pharmacists to empty the safe. 

Flashback to Citrus Heights in 2017, an elderly woman died from her injuries after robbers ran her to the ground as they took off from an Auburn Boulevard Rite Aid.

"It's a safety issue for everyone," Hopkins said.

Hopkins says laws need to change. While prescription narcotics like hydrocodone are top targets, so is cough syrup.

Credit: TEGNA - The Tank
This graphic shows the increase in pharmacy overnight break-ins over the years, according to data collected by the state Board of Pharmacy.

"It's a party drug, so it's sought after it's ability to have a good time," Hopkins explained.

The cough syrup only costs $10 and isn't a controlled substance, making the crime harder to enforce, he said.

The California Pharmacists Association lobbied for a bill to make it harsher crime to steal cough medicine, but the legislation did not make it pass then-Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

"If we made those drugs higher level of controlled substance in the state, then there would be more teeth," Hopkins said.

Since the string of break-ins, Pucci's Pharmacy has fortified its store. It's outfitted with a dozen high-resolution security cameras, panic buttons, sirens, a DNA spray that marks intruders, and fortified doors.

Hopkins said these security measures have helped deter thieves, but he's speaking out knowing other patients and staff in other pharmacies are at risk.

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Van Tieu.


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