Desperate pharmacy patients turn to desperate measures

News item: Rock Hill was hit by another pharmacy robbery Sunday when two suspects demanded pills at a CVS drugstore, then fled with police in hot pursuit. The incident follows a rash of similar stick-ups in the area.

Another news item: Workers signing up for annual enrollment in their employer’s health insurance plans are reporting sticker shock at a hefty increase in premiums, particularly for prescription coverage.

* * * * *

For those tired of an unceasing spate of bad news about health care costs, a new option is gaining popularity: robbing the local drugstore.

And it’s not just junkies, pillheads and career criminals looking for ways to juggle expenses that are committing the crimes. Increasingly, the elderly, the disabled, and just plain folk are threatening violence if they can’t get their meds at a reasonable cost.

“I have to have my flu shot. If I catch the flu, I’ll die,” said 62-year-old Sarah Johnson. “My insurance (company) says they’ll reimburse me for the $25 but there’s paperwork involved and it takes weeks. For me, it’s just easier to brandish a weapon and demand the shot. Bob is my regular pharmacist, and he knows I won’t shoot him. But obviously, he doesn’t want to take any chances.”

Johnson showed up at her neighborhood Walgreen’s to get the vaccine last week when the human resources director holding her company’s benefits meeting said it would be free. Told by store personnel it was free only as a reimbursement, Johnson became agitated and left, then returned later with a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol.

“I held that gun on them the whole time they were prepping and  injecting me,” Johnson said. “It was tough because I usually shoot with my right hand, but the chair I sat at required me to get the shot in my right arm. Good thing I didn’t have to shoot because I’m wild as hell with my left hand.”

Johnson said her pharmacist was understanding but terrified during the armed encounter.

“I’ve known Sarah for years,” said druggist Robert Henderson. “She’s a regular customer and a good friend, so I didn’t pull out the Luger I keep behind the counter and kill her.”

A 32-year-old mother of three trying a similar technique at the Rite Aid wasn’t quite so lucky.

Marianne Burns said her insurance plan used to cover the allergy medicine her triplet second-graders needed, but the formula became generic during the summer. The over-the-counter variety costs about three times as much as what her insurance used to cover, so she arrived at the pharmacy last Sunday carrying an AK-47 modified to discharge armor-piercing bullets.

“I thought I might be able to just shoplift it,” said the former teacher from York County Jail, where she’s being held on assorted terrorism charges. “But one of my girls started crying, which drew the attention of the security guard. That’s when I had to start shooting.”

Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack, which prompted Burns to say the attempt “was worth it.”

“There’s a lot less paperwork to fill out when you’re preparing a defense on federal charges than there would be if I used my flexible spending account,” she said.

John Leeman, a 76-year-old retiree, faced a particularly daunting challenge on his trip to pick up a prescription. He’s lucky enough to be covered by health insurance from his old union job, but he’s also tapping into some Medicare coverage. The conflicts and duplication between the two plans were certain to be problematic, he thought.

“I needed my diabetes medicine. I wanted the EpiPen with the measured insulin dose and I was afraid they’d make me take the bulk stuff,” Leeman said. “So I brought my sword along.”

Leeman had picked up the souvenir saber during his service in Korea in 1952. It sat unused in a closet for over half a century before he realized it could be used in an armed assault.

“Sure enough, that’s what they tried to do to me,” Leeman said. “So I pulled out my sword and ran the pharmacy tech right through. As his lifeblood poured from the gaping wound, he staggered to the shelf and got me the EpiPen.”

“It’s just a pharmacy tech. No big deal,” said head pharmacist Andy Wells. “Now if it had been a cashier, that would’ve been different. But I know John — he’s a good ol’ boy — and he was just doing what he thought needed to be done.”

Pharmacy robber presents his CVS ExtraCare card to receive extra discounts on his haul

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