Pharmacists Fight Abusers

MOUNDSVILLE – With an increase in prescription drug abuse occurring in the Ohio Valley and across the nation, local pharmacists continue training to deal with drug abusers’ potential attempts to rob or burglarize their stores.

Jason Turner, pharmacist and owner of the Moundsville Pharmacy and former president of the Ohio-Marshall County Pharmacist Association, said during the past few years, the 100-plus members of his association have received training to deal with such situations via the RxPATROL (Pattern Analysis Tracking Robberies and Other Losses) organization.

Turner, who has worked as a pharmacist for 10 years, said in addition to training, pharmacists also have increased their stores’ overall security and surveillance systems. Many privately owned pharmacies are leading the way by adding multiple hidden and non-hidden cameras inside and outside their shops.

“By the time you reach the front counter, you’ve been on camera six to eight times,” Turner said, noting pharmacy workers engage in training similar to that of law enforcement officers. “Security and surveillance systems really play key roles in identifying individuals when they enter stores.”

With drug abusers becoming increasingly bold, some pharmacists are keeping guns inside their stores to defend themselves and their fellow workers. For example, Kevin Walnoha of Wellsburg attempted to rob the Elm Grove Pharmacy in Wheeling on May 25, 2012, but was shot to death by pharmacist Anthony Martino.

During the attempted robbery, Walnoha, who was wearing a mask, came into the store, pointed a gun at pharmacy technician Stacy Hess and demanded prescription pills. Martino saw what was happening on a monitor in his office and came out to defend Hess and shot Walnoha. Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith commended Martino for his actions. Walnoha’s accomplice, Melody Fisher of Beech Bottom, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role in the incident.

About a week before the Elm Grove attempt, the Rite Aid in Warwood was robbed at gunpoint. Wheeling police investigated and discovered there were some prescription bottles from the Rite Aid found in Walnoha’s residence. However, it was not positive proof that he was involved in its robbery, said Wheeling police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger.

In September 2012, the Elm Grove Pharmacy was hit again – this time by burglars in the night who cut electrical lines outside the building and stole $50,000 worth of prescription medications. That case remains under investigation.

One would think knowing a pharmacy worker might carry a firearm inside their store would be a deterrent to robbers, but Turner believes that may not be the case for many.

“Drug abusers and dealers in desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said.

Turner noted, however, it is not just pharmacists who face danger these days – anyone who works in health care and with controlled substances does.

“Law enforcement is more aware and pharmacies are more aware for the potential for these occurrences,” he said. ”Both are prepared to respond when the alarms do go off.”

When it comes to pharmacists arming themselves, Schwertfeger said it is their right to have the gun if they have a conceal-carry permit. But people need to be prepared not only with training, but mentally prepared if there comes a time when they have to use their gun.

“They need to do some serious self reflection. … They need to be prepared to use it as opposed to someone taking it off of them and pointing it at them,” he said.