Almost 80% of pharmacies have been the victims of crime within the last year, a survey by Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has revealed.
According to the findings, 79% of pharmacies have been affected in the last 12 months by crimes such as shoplifting, break-ins and raids.
Almost one-third of these cases were described as violent and/or included a weapon. In raids where a weapon was used, knives were used in 77% of these cases and guns in 8%.
Some 81% of victims experienced two or more incidents during 2017.
"Almost one in three crimes against pharmacies is violent in nature, involving not only a physical threat but also a substantial psychological threat to victims. It is difficult enough to run a pharmacy in the current environment without repeatedly being the target for criminal activity.
"Not only do these crimes have significant cost implications but more importantly, they have a very detrimental impact on the people working in the pharmacy. It is unacceptable that pharmacy owners and their staff are viewed as ‘soft targets', where the probability of repeat offences is high and the risk of apprehension and penalty is low," commented IPU president, Daragh Connolly.
The survey revealed that while shoplifting was the most common crime in pharmacies, the number of pharmacists who experienced a raid jumped to 13% compared to 6% the year before.
Meanwhile, 73% reported the crimes they had experienced to the Gardai and 79% of these felt that their case was dealt with adequately.
Of those who did not report a crime, almost half said they felt the perpetrator would not be charged, while 23% had no confidence in the Garda response.
Almost all pharmacists (97%) had invested in CCTV to help protect their business and staff.
Mr Connolly insisted that crimes against pharmacies have now reached ‘crisis levels'.
"Pharmacists who are victims of crime say they are sick and tired of the ‘revolving door approach', with many complaining that even when the criminals are caught, they are not sufficiently penalised and are allowed to continue with their criminal activities.
"A zero tolerance approach is urgently required from the judiciary and the Gardaí; we need tougher sentencing and a more visible Garda presence required to address this scourge. If not, this sinister and frightening pattern of crime on pharmacies will continue, to the detriment of our members' pharmacies and staff and the local communities we serve," he said.
The IPU called for a targeted approach by Gardai to specifically tackle pharmacy-related crimes. Pharmacists who took part in the survey identified visible policing, a faster Garda response and tougher sentencing as the most effective methods of reducing crime.