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Most Stolen Products: Drugstore Pills

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Shoplifters and professional thieves go for stomach soothers, diet pills, and pain relief.

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If you've stopped by your local drugstore lately, you may have noticed that the Prilosec (PG), a heartburn medication, is stocked in an odd place -- it's often behind the cashier.

But stomach relief is hardly impulse buy, you may note. Has acid reflux become so common a problem that shop owners have made it extra convenient to pick up a remedy? Or perhaps there's something about Prilosec that puts it in the need-to-be-controlled category, like sinus medications containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used by some to stay awake and alert and by others to make meth.

Now you're getting warmer.

Although the pill that promises 24 hours of heartburn protection isn't one to get anyone high on its own, it has been known to enhance feelings of euphoria when taken with methadone. For that reason, police forces and retailers in various regions of the country have noted a spike in the theft of Prilosec and other stomach remedies.

In Florida, for example, Sebastian police recently apprehended three suspects in a Prilosec shoplifting attempt at an area Walmart (WMT). The trio were caught stuffing 109 boxes of the pills into an empty vacuum cleaner, according to the local news.

And so the stomach soother joins a long list of drugs commonly stolen by organized retail crime (ORC) rings which have found avenues for reselling over-the-counter health products on Internet auction sites (where sellers can conveniently remain anonymous) and in other corner-store outlets where managers, knowingly or not, purchase the pills from the gray market.

Experts have found that health products -- namely drugs, but also personal care products like deodorant and costly replacement heads for electric toothbrushes -- are routinely among the top products lifted from groceries, department stores and major retailers. The value of these products constitutes a large portion of the estimated tens of billions lost to crime every year.

Last November, the National Retail Federation released a list of products that consumers should be wary of buying outside of reputable shops. Here's a look at the top brands on the "hit" list:

Abreva
Advil
Aleve
Alli weight loss pills
Benadryl
diabetic testing strips
e.p.t. pregnancy tests
Lotrimin
Matrix
Nicorette
Pepcid AC
Prilosec
Rogaine
Sudafed
Tylenol Extra Strength
Visine
Zantac

Among these, certain items stand out as particular risks, says Lisa LaBruno, VP of Loss Prevention and Legal Affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

Diabetic testing strips have expiration dates, for example. "Folks are buying these from online marketplaces and flea markets and not seeing that they've expired or not paying attention to the date. So they're testing their sugar levels, and little do they know, it's not working," LaBruno tells Minyanville.

"You can bet that members of the organized retail crime are not very concerned with safety guidelines and expiration dates while these products are in the stream of commerce, so to speak," she adds.

Another product seemingly climbing the ranks of most-stolen OTC remedies is Mucinex DM. The nasal decongestant is apparently becoming popular among teenagers looking to get high, thus fueling shoplifting activity.

After two men were caught attempting to steal $3,000 worth of the product from a Virgina store, Rutherfoord Rose, M.D., of Virgina Poison Control, told parents to be on lookout for signs their teens could be abusing such drugs.

He suggested parents take note of strange behavior, stumbling, or shaky eyes. "Patients can have euphoric effects where they get lightheaded and out of touch with reality, but that can quickly lead to uncontrollable behavior, it can lead to a seizure, it can lead to them becoming unconscious," he said.

How shoplifters exit shops with stolen health-care products varies widely. Members of organized retail crime units typically steal in bulk. An OTC thief might be reselling a product to make a living, finance an addiction, or serve the needs of an even larger supply chain, LaBruno explains. So the most common "boost" scenario involves one thief holding a bag while the other cleans out a shelf . The bag itself is usually lined with tinfoil or something similar, which helps prevent sensors from detecting anti-theft tags inside store products.

Individual shoplifters behave differently. Their patterns are erratic and unpredictable.

A man in Salem, Utah, for example, recently chose to hide sleeping pills in his baby's diapers. As reported in the local news:

According to a police affidavit, Austin M. Bennett, 29, was seen on a video camera removing a box of sleeping pills and placing them in his shopping cart. He then paid for the items in his shopping cart and passed all points of sale. However, when a clerk held Bennett's baby for him, the clerk reportedly found the sleeping pills in the manufacturer's packaging inside the baby's diaper.


Let's hope for her sake that there weren't any other "surprises" in there, too.

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