CVS, Illinois AG respond to rise in retail robberies, opioid theft

All 392 CVS locations in Illinois will now feature time-delay safes to prevent narcotics thefts. The measure is a response to a recent rise in retail and pharmacy theft.

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Time-delay safe notices are placed on the counter as part of an initiative to prevent future thefts of pharmacies during a press conference, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 at CVS on 1165 N. Clark St in Near North.

Time-delay safe notices on the counter are part of an initiative to prevent future thefts of pharmacies.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

After a steep rise in retail and pharmacy robberies, CVS and other retailers are taking steps to stop shoplifters, looters and thieves who authorities say often act on behalf of “well-organized crime rings.”

On Tuesday, CVS announced new behind-the-counter safety measures in all of its 392 Illinois stores to prevent the theft of opioids and other controlled substances. The chain partnered with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

“These are more often than not, not isolated incidents,” Raoul said. “[They] are part of an organized crime scheme that frequently can be connected to drug trades, human trafficking and other dangerous crimes.”

Raoul said his office’s newly formed Organized Retail Crime Task Force will also be instrumental in stamping out the spike in retail and pharmacy robberies. The task force combats organized retail crime by facilitating cooperation among retailers, online marketplaces, law enforcement agencies and local prosecutors.

Executive Vice President, Chief Policy and External Affairs Officer, and General Counsel, CVS Health Tom Moriarity explains the measures CVS has taken to prevent future thefts of pharmacy narcotics during a press conference, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 at CVS on 1165 N. Clark St in Near North.

Tom Moriarty, CVS Health’s chief policy officer and general counsel, said there’s been a significant uptick in robberies across the pharmacy and retail industry.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Over the past two years, organized retail crime has markedly increased. Since the pandemic, CVS has seen an estimated 30% increase in thefts, and organized retail theft in the U.S. accounts for $45 billion in annual losses, Raoul’s office said.

Raoul, who on Tuesday touted CVS’s increased efforts to combat opioid theft, said the rise in retail and pharmacy robberies is likely due to organized crime groups seizing the “opportunity” that came with the summer protests of 2020.

“On the heels of the protests, we saw people take advantage of the looting,” Raoul said. “That was not organic, that was just not people who are upset about police, those were organized crime [groups].”

As of Tuesday, all 392 CVS locations in Illinois now feature time-delay safes in their pharmacies, which are intended to prevent narcotics theft.

Time delay safe notice sticker on the door of the pharmacy on the counter as part of an initiative to prevent future thefts of pharmacy narcotics during a press conference, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 at CVS on 1165 N. Clark St in Near North. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The time-delay safes’ randomized unlocking system will prevent the theft of narcotics in CVS pharmacies, said Tom Moriarty, CVS Health’s chief policy officer and general counsel.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The new safes will hold controlled substances and open at a random time each day. Pharmacy employees will be alerted once they’re unlocked so they can remove the amount of medication expected for the next day, said Tom Moriarty, CVS Health’s chief policy officer and general counsel.

Employees cannot open the safes on their own, allowing the bulk of medication, including opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, to be locked away during most hours of the day.

The safes also feature emergency alarm systems and 24-hour surveillance. Moriarty said the safes have been installed in CVS locations across 20 states and contributed to a significant reduction in pharmacy robberies.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul speaks with reporters about preventing the theft of narcotics from pharmacies during a press conference, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 at CVS on 1165 N. Clark St in Near North.

Illinois Attorney General Raoul said much of the retail and pharmacy thefts are done on behalf of organized crime rings.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Instead of expanding penalties for theft, Raoul said prosecutors need to “charge more creatively” within the existing statutes to prevent future robberies.

“The best way to prevent further future action is to get to the people who are doing it. If they’re not apprehended, they will repeat,” he said. “There are some acts that cannot be responded to with a slap on the wrist. We’ve got to be tough about it.”

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