Drugstore heists alarm Edmonton police

The popularity on city streets of the painkiller Oxycontin is behind the growing number of drugstore robberies in the Edmonton area, say police.

A growing number of young men addicted to street drugs is driving up the number of drugstore robberies in the Edmonton area, say police.

Drugstore robberies have almost doubled this year from last, while robberies of banks and convenience stores have dropped by half.

Police are pointing to desperate addicts and the lucrative market for stolen opiate drugs such as Oxycontin, where one pill of the so-called "hillbilly heroin" can be sold on the street for up to $80.

Drugstore bandits are unique when it comes to crime, said Staff Sgt. Howard Kunce. They are young men from a middle-class background with little or no history with police, but almost always addicted to drugs, he said.

He said the phenomenom is North American wide.

Nicole Schettler, a St. Albert pharmacist, was robbed twice two years ago.

"It was alarming when he lifted his coat and he showed me a gun," she said. "And we went back to the safe."

The man, who was relatively well-dressed and calm, took the money from the register, but was far more interested in Oxycontin, Schettler said.

The same man came in a week later and stole more of the powerful painkiller, she said.

Police are working with pharmacy staff like Schettler to prevent robberies, or at least reduce the level of violence and trauma involved, said Kunce.

In the first three months of 2011, there have been 13 drugstore robberies, compared to seven in the same period last year. Of those, 11 targeted drugs, not cash.

In all of 2010, there were 27 drugstore robberies, compared to 18 in 2009.