Edmonton pharmacies alarmed over rise in prescription cough syrup thefts

EDMONTON — Some local pharmacists are alarmed after at least six Edmonton pharmacies have been robbed of certain cough medications in the last two weeks.

Edmonton police say in every instance the target medications were Percocet, codeine, and cotridin – all also known as cough syrup.

CTV News Edmonton spoke with two of the pharmacies that were hit. Both declined interviews for fear of being robbed again.

Shamas Arshad recounted how he was working alone one evening in his south Edmonton pharmacy when three people barged in, one with a knife.

“One of the big guys, he grabbed me by the front of the neck and he asked me, ‘the Percocet, the cotridin, and the codeine,’” Arshad said.

Everything they wanted was in the pharmacy’s safe, he added. During the incident, Arshad said he was punched in the left ear and his hands were tied.

He recalled how one of the robbers who was holding the knife threatened him.

“He said, ‘We will slash your throat if you make a noise,’” Arshad added.

The thieves grabbed the narcotics and left. While Arshad was okay physically, he was forever scarred emotionally.

“It was quite traumatizing,” Arshad said, as he paused. “I can still feel those things.”

While Edmonton police declined to comment about why thieves are increasingly going after cough medication, some pharmacists who spoke with CTV News said they believe it could be connected to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Another theory pharmacists shared is that robbers are going after cotridin, or prescription cough syrup, because it is difficult to obtain.

Since July 1, 2020, to receive oral liquids containing codeine from a pharmacy, a triplicate prescription is needed. Those types of prescriptions are almost impossible to forge, pharmacists say.

Local pharmacists said they would see hundreds of prescriptions for cotridin. Since the change took effect last year, they’ve barely seen any.

“When we get a prescription for it, we make sure it’s the right prescription, it’s legitimate,” said Mohamed Elfishawi from Terwillegar Pharmacy. “Then we order it the next day.”

The Alberta Pharmacy Association says it is aware of “the increase in robberies” and is working with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) on implementing prevention measures.

EPS encourages pharmacies to implement security measures like panic alarms, raised counters, and surveillance cameras.

Shamas, who was robbed back in February, says the cameras were not working. He’s convinced extra security and societal supports for those using the stolen cough syrups are the answers.

“Every problem has a solution,” he Shamas said. “It’s not like anyone’s fault, but it’s a whole society that should contribute.”

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