Pharmacists reveal how easy it is to steal drugs from work and why they do it

Pharmacists reveal how easy it is to steal drugs from work and why they do it

VicesNovember 09, 2017 By Eleanor Gray

As any street pusher knows: Never get high on your own supply.

But that doesn't stop a lot of pharmacists from doing it anyway.

One such worker recently told us about a time they were filling a script for an opioid painkiller, when a few of them fell to the floor.

“I was gonna throw it away, but I didn’t,” he said. “I took it and got high as fuck.”

This pharmacist (we'll call him "Hank") finished out his shift, even though his face was itching and the world was blurry.

“It was awesome," he added. "I was fucked up the rest of the day.”

The average pharmacist — with their white coats, close-cropped haircut and square glasses — inspires confidence and sobriety.

But from what Hank tells me, that image is just an elaborate front.

Pharmacy workers purloin pills like fiends. Usually, they swipe small amounts — a benzo here, an opioid there. “As long as you know how to do it right, it's pretty easy," says one anonymous user on a pharmacy discussion thread. "I've worked with techs who have gone on stealing unnoticed for months, until they got sloppy."

It's not just a few bad apples, though, it seems to be the whole produce section. Pharmacists report in a study titled Culture of Tolerance, “that taking medication from the pharmacy was an expected perk of their position. Some reported that such behavior was supported or even encouraged by their supervisors.” There are reports of workers opening a seam in their shirtsleeves and tucking pills in; shoving pills in their socks; forging scripts and keeping the drugs. What's more, the study said, there is a “code of silence” wherein pharmacists cover for each other. 

It's another collateral consequence of the War on Drugs: because the stuff is hard to get on the street, some pill lovers have taken to becoming Inside Men. 

A career in pharmacy “has definitely allowed me to understand doctors better and gain their trust regarding access to abusable medication,” one student of pharmaceuticals said via email. He's never swiped anything, but “I've said the right things to be given some low level opiates like codeine,” he continues. And he's learned how to not mix those drugs together recklessly

Sometimes pharmacy workers do get busted for filching in bulk. Pharmacy techs in Georgia allegedly stole $20 million worth of drugs — 420,000 doses of Xanax, 1.2 million doses of Vicodin and 110 gallon of codeine syrup to make "Purple Drank." These hourly employees were driving Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. And probably leaning most of the time.

For others, the motivation isn't profit, it's curiosity. A pharmaceutical researcher in the Netherlands told us that he’d done cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, 2-CB, ketamine and others before he started his pharmaceutical studies. “After using MDMA for the first time, I was amazed,” he says. “How can a small pill make me feel this good? I wanted to know the mechanisms. This was the first time I was actually interested in the brain.” 

So maybe weed can be a gateway drug — to a great career.

Hank, who we spoke with on the phone earlier, adds that he has had a life with obstacles in it. His dad committed suicide. His anxiety raged from it. A constant, heavy regimen of Xanax floated him through the hard days. 

“Xanax is the number one reason I like pharmacy so much,” Hank said. “Xanax taught me there was something out there that could take away my anxiety.”

Now, though, he’s turned over a new leaf, and is using his job not to steal Xanax, he said, but to wean himself off it. “Pharmacy teaches me that there’s a lot of options,” he said. He's studying which drugs will help him be calm without getting him hooked. 

His favorite anxiolytic? Not anything synthetic. Just that old classic. 

“I smoke weed everyday,” he says. “Weed is amazing. I think everybody should smoke weed everyday.”

So while stealing Xanax may still be illegal no matter what occupation you're in, the great thing about weed now is: you don't need to be a thieving pharmacist to go get some.