top of page
  • Writer's pictureJames W

My pharmacy got looted. Here's how I dealt with it.

It's not easy dealing with a break-in as a former Business Owner. Here is the one of the craziest experiences I had to deal with in 2020.


A Bit of Background

Back in May of 2020, I experienced a soul crushing experience that led me to reevaluate the decisions of my life. Also, this was during the peak of the Pandemic. It felt like a typical Saturday. We witnessed crowds of people with banners marching down Santa Clara Street towards San Jose City Hall. I had prime real estate on the corner 14th and Santa Clara and was able to see the broad diversity of people protesting against brutality of George Floyd. The crowd seems to be endless as my working hours went by. You could hear people playing music, or chanting phrases. Comically enough, I heard a vuvuzela. The walls of the Pharmacy did not dampen the sound of the crowd. It was difficult to concentrate and at times I struggled hearing my patients speak. For the most part, the protest appeared well organized and did not seem threatening or dangerous. I appreciated the message and the gesture of the crowd.

I closed shop around 230PM in the afternoon and went about my day. I double checked to make sure our doors were locked. I got in my car and drove home. I felt a sense of relief after getting home. Finally - I was away from the huge crowd. (I have anxiety when I am surrounded by people I do not know) It was finally the weekend and I could relax at home watching mindless television with my dog Pepper. On television, it was apparent that some protests were completely out of hand. I witnessed downtown Los Angeles in complete disarm from the birds eye view prospective of a reporter. It seemed that every major channel was documenting the protest. I recall that multiple intersections had vehicles or dumpsters on fire. Some stores were pillaged and robbed. Funny enough, I saw a picture of someone looting a retail Pharmacy store and running off with prescription medications. It's hard to know what the individual below took, but I can tell you, it has no street value. (I think the guy was running off with chlorhexidine which is used to prevent plaque growth in the teeth) Talk about having a clean mouth!


A Weird Conversation

I would later find out my colleague Jimmy, who happens to be a Pharmacist, was stuck in the ordeal and had to flee his store because of the looters. He almost got trapped on the drive home but thankfully his fiancé Macy was able to help navigate my bestie out of the situation.

As my Sunday progressed, I could not believe how out of hand the protests went. I tuned to our local news channel and watched the protest go out of hand. In front of city hall, an old Mercedes vehicle was pushed into the middle of the street and there was a large dumpster fire next to it. People were running into a neighboring construction site and it seemed like complete chaos. San Jose Police Department began dispersing the crowd with tear gas. As a San Jose native, I have never witnessed something so crazy yet profound. As the sun went down, a mass text was sent out to all San Jose residents. It had something to the effect of "Shelter in Place" and "Mandatory Curfew." I think this was around 8:00PM sharp. I shrugged off the text and thought to myself, this entire thing is completely out of hand but I am sure it will be okay. I was texting back and forth between a colleague and shared with them this picture. I jokingly said, "if you're going to loot, make sure you take the good stuff"! Immediately following that joke, I received a notice from my alarm company ADT. (They're a garbage security company but you will need them if you want to reduce your insurance rate). "Okay", I thought to myself. "It's probably the window vibrating from someone playing loud music. I better go check it out." I felt conflicted about leaving my house since there was a mandatory curfew in effect. After all, I did not want to get a citation or worse get arrested. I felt there an immense duty as a healthcare professional to secure the premises to prevent dangerous prescription medications leaking out to the public. I bundled up, sat in my car and agonized during the drive with my curiosity of what was going on.

This is what I saw.

There's no point in using the front door!

My mind was racing. What happened? I have dealt with a couple break ins before but how bad was the damage? During my drive, I dialed 911 to report what had happened. The female dispatcher talked to me on my drive but ultimately nothing could be done since all resources were tasked with violent crimes. They considered my experience a property damage event without any immediate life threatening harm. I was upset, but I understood the extenuating circumstances. Was defunding the police the right answer?

I parked my car in front of the Pharmacy instead of the traditional parking garage. There was a large window broken with glass shattered across the ground. I walked inside through, what would be the glass wall. I did not bother opening the front door. I felt anger, resentment, disbelief, shock, fear and a myriad of emotions. My mind was racing a million miles per minute. Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I've helped out my community so much as a healthcare provider. Is this what I get? Objectively, I figured well, let's try to get someone to board up the windows and go from there. I went through my phone list and eventually found someone in the vicinity who would be able to board the window but it would take a few hours for him to reach me. I sat in front of the Pharmacy in the cold waiting for the contractor to arrive. I broke out in a rash all over my body. When it's cold, my skin gets rashes (I have no clue why! I guess I am intolerant to the cold) Minutes passed by. Then hours passed by. The intersection of the storefront is dimly lit at night. I witnessed random crowds of people or individuals would stop by and ask "What Happened?" Angrily, I responded "What the fuck do you think happened?!" Wasn't the broken glass and tipped over fixtures enough to give you a hint? Why are you out when there's a Mandatory Curfew in effect? It was sketch. I was on-guard. I saw a police motorcade pass by on a few occasions of the night but they did not seem to care.

There was one conversation I remember quite well. A male individual, quite disheveled in his appearance. He looked like in his mid-40s. I assumed him to be transient , or homeless, since he carried a lot of knick-knacks in his backpack and was quite protective of the bicycle he strolled around with. We would have a conversation about life, relationships and a few humorous dad jokes. I admit, I was quite scared talking to this individual since it was dark, at night and I was already on edge because of the looting.

The San Jose dispatcher who I spoke to over the phone, called me back to check in on me. I thought it was a kind gesture. Abruptly, two vehicles pulled up in front of the Pharmacy. It was a white SUV and a dark colored sedan. Seven people exited the vehicle. I could see, what appeared to be bags in their hands. From what I could witness, most of them had their hoodies on so their face was difficult to discern. They walked in my direction (to the Pharmacy). They were about 20-25 feet away and closing distance quickly. "Shit! These people are here to rob the Pharmacy or perhaps even worse, jump me!" I thought. I was faced with two options: run or fight. I decided to chose the later.


Confronting the Looters

"GET OUT OF HERE! LEAVE! I AM ARMED WITH A PISTOL AND WILL SHOOT," I yelled. My voice rang loudly as I could hear the echo back from the buildings in the intersection. When the group of looters heard me, they looked up finally saw me. They ran back to their car and sped off. I sounded like a lunatic in retrospect. Perhaps the friction of seeing a possible threat was enough to reconsider their actions. Adrenaline was pumping through my system. I was mentally prepared to fight to the death. After all, the Pharmacy was my baby and I put my blood, sweat and tears into it. If you were in my situation, how would have handled it? In hindsight, probably not the brightest thing since I value life more than the inventory of my business. But the bloodlust and dedication I put into this business was on the line. I was not going to let someone destroy it, in front of my eyes. Also, I was still on the phone with the 911 Dispatcher. I was able to read off the license plates of the cars to the dispatcher.

The transient homeless person walked away around this time but later came back and asked "Do you have a gun?" "No", I responded. It was a bluff.

Through my many charades of partying and going out late night in San Jose, I have never once felt unsafe walking around the streets of downtown at three in the morning. Sure you would encounter a few transient homeless people, but that wasn't scary to me. Most are kind and just looking for people to befriend and talk to. For the first time, I felt fear, a lack of safety and the thought of being in a dangerous environment. Prior to this event, I would have no problem walking to the Pharmacy at night from 3rd Street after a night of bar hopping to grab a Pedialyte off the shelf and taking a nap at the store. (Pedialyte is a hangover lifesaver haha!) This looting event changed the way I viewed late night debauchery in downtown San Jose.

A white pickup truck with boards finally arrived! It was two in the morning and I was expected to open the store in six hours. I was dead tired. Exhausted. The contractor boarded up the windows with nails and the entire store front. It was a crazy experience. What would go from the greatest view of downtown San Jose from working inside the Pharmacy, turned into a claustrophobic nightmare. Have you worked in an office with no windows? I need to see sunlight! I was stressed dealing with the fact that a massive undertaking would be needed to get the business back up to speed. I was disappointed and upset. I wrote a post on Reddit in the San Jose subreddit. This post somehow became the #1 post in the subreddit and it seemed slightly depressing to me that bad news would be ranked the top post for a while. There are other #1 posts and I think the City of San Jose should be known for those posts instead.


Getting Through The First 24 Hours

Still in my pajamas as the morning rolled in, I thought and quickly began an action plan. I first called the Board of Pharmacy who surprisingly communicated to me that roughly ten percent of Pharmacies in California experienced a looting event over the weekend. That's a lot! Understanding the guidance, I had to formulate a plan on how to get the business back up online and running. I expected to have two weeks of downtime. That is a lot of money to be lost each day! In my mind, I had the finish the following tasks.

  1. Segregate prescription inventory that was contaminated

  2. Inventory check prescriptions that were ready for delivery

  3. Notify non-essential employees to take the day off (as there would be nothing for them to do)

  4. Notify the DEA by filing a DEA 106 within 1 Business Day

  5. Notify the Board of Pharmacy within 1 Week

  6. Notify the San Jose Police Department immediately

  7. Tally Current Inventory and compare with Estimated On Hand Inventory to extrapolate Stolen Inventory

  8. Segregate contaminated inventory for destruction

  9. Log contaminated inventory

  10. Review security footage and determine action plan to prevent a future break in (Hint: there's nothing you can do to prevent a looting scenario)

  11. Prioritize Prescriptions dispenses needed IMMEDIATELY by urgency

  12. Document process and experience for insurance

  13. Communicate with Landlord possible security concerns and replacing glass window

  14. Recover damaged electronic data of Prescription Records

  15. Evaluate security of IT network for Pharmacy Data System

  16. Purchase Ready to Use Computers and Monitors

  17. Contact vendor to refill Fire Extinguisher

  18. Buy electronic scooters to temporarily service hand deliveries in the local community

  19. Figure out anticipate cash-flow interruption, contractual vendor relationships and employee payroll. (You have to buy additional inventory to cover the loss! How are you supposed to pay my staff and my vendors? Talk about a cash crunch!)

  20. Organize daily fills, weekly fills, monthly fills and other cycle fills

  21. Communicate with patients directly whose medications/prescriptions were affected by the looting

  22. Welfare check the safety of our delivery vehicles and estimate repair damages

  23. Repair robotic packaging and dispensing machines

  24. Ensure a safe working environment for employees

  25. Re-adjust staffing hours to extend beyond normal working hours

  26. Communicate with Reverse Distributor to destroy contaminated medications

  27. Deal with news crews wanting to conduct an interview based on my reddit post

  28. Repair broken doors and fixtures (A trip to home depot for screws, paint, paint brushes and wood!)

  29. Communicate with all my clients what had happened and why would we would not be able to fulfill their order immediately

  30. List out, organize and re-dispense stolen medications

  31. Ensure working function of Alternative Site of Care clinic model during the week

  32. Discuss with legal council for guidance on the looting manner

  33. And so much more....

I originally expected to be out of business for two weeks. Fourteen days of zero revenue. Most businesses would be dead out of the water. I pulled three and a half all-nighters to get everything done. Holy Moly! I knew that if I did not expedite and finish my check off list, there was a possibility of losing customers and future patients! I couldn't accept that reality!


Posting on Reddit

Yes, I was quite emotional. I was cleaning up a heaping pile of shit afterall. I never thought about writing my experience until later that day. Here's a snippet of what I posted on Reddit.

I received a myriad of comments from sympathy to skepticism. Pretty sure the skepticism were troll comments but hey it's the internet! I can't really tell you what compelled me to write this post but looking back, I felt upset as a Healthcare Provider dealing with ridiculous behavior during the Pandemic. This looting was the final straw for me. The amount of outreach from friends and family was heartfelt and made me understand a terrible incident was just a bump in the road of my life.

I received a thoughtful letter from Assemblymember Evan Low! Here's a snippet of the card!


Reviewing the Video Footage

If you recall from my story above, I confronted seven individuals that tried to possibly rob the Pharmacy at night while I was securing the premises. Well.... I have security cameras on a closed loop system at my Pharmacy. I reviewed the footage and it was completely shocking to see seven individuals on camera. I still wonder to this day if it were the same seven individuals that I encountered that night. To my knowledge, San Jose Police Department has not made any arrests or conducted an investigation. Bummer! You can catch a glimpse of the video footage in the following news clip at the link below:


A Stroke of Luck

The Pharmacy was located on the bottom floor of a multistory commercial building. There was a Marijuana Clinic located on the 3rd floor. A customer of the clinic decided to smoke marijuana in the building and triggered the fire alarm and the fire extinguisher system. What were you thinking?! The entire floor was flooded and seeped to the floors below. Luckily we weren't affected too much. Everyone on the third and second floor experienced a business interruption. This flooding event made me re-visit our insurance policy to ensure we had adequate coverage of our inventory should a flooding event ever occur in the future. I did not have the hindsight to consider a looting incident since it never happened to me. Because of the flooding incident, I decided to raise our limits to cover the cost of our inventory. Prior to the flooding event, my limits only covered a third of our inventory. 1/3rd! The damage we experienced was in the seven digits range. We scaled the business very quickly so naturally our inventory of the business grew! Can you imagine taking a loss this significant?!

If this flooding event never occurred, I would be in a difficult situation and more than likely underinsured from the looting event. That would have been a financial disaster of the company. Can you imagine you have to replenish your inventory with medications that cost over $3,000 for a monthly fill? It would be really difficult to service your existing customer base! If you don't have inventory, then your customer will probably end up going to your competitor pharmacy and stay there as a permanent customer! As terrible as it sounds, I am grateful that a mishap occurred to lead me to a re-evaluation of our current insurance policy. If you are managing an inventory business, make sure to know your limits for Inventory Coverage! This is distinctly separate from Liability Insurance!


Here's How I Can Help You

I describe myself as a cool, calm collected individual in the face of adversity. I understand the importance of the business life cycle and know what needs to be done to keep the business afloat. It is important to minimize the risks and downside with careful business planning. I think you would be joyed to have me by your side as your adviser, consultant or partner. Things happen in life. It's all about how you react in the face of adversity.


Here's a few takeaways from my story

Prepare for the worst. Wish for the best. Execute execute execute. If you're running an inventory business, it is important to document what you have on hand. You never know if there's shrinkage, theft or inventory missing if you do not know what you have in the first place! You will experience many hiccups down the road and your reaction is all that matters.

134 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page