Dope fiend in my workplace

Boy do I wish I was kidding about this one…

I take prescription pain meds for a chronic female problem. It’s really no big deal, but I often take a pill or a pill and a half at lunch. I certainly don’t abuse the medication, nor do I bring tons with me to the office.

There is a girl who sits near me who I’ve been friends with for the two years I’ve worked with this company. She’s had bariatric surgery and a few plastic surgeries over the last few years and has been on and off pain pills in her recovery. She and I have often discussed our various aches and pains and the medicines we have taken.

About a month ago I heard her on the phone with her doctor, trying to get him to refill her Vicodin prescription. From all accounts, he would not do it. I heard her crying and I immediately wondered if maybe she was getting a slight dependency on the pills. I asked her, and she told me no, that she was just having pain and nothing would help. I stupidly told her I’d bring in a few pills for her until she could get in with her specialist. Now, I realize you aren’t supposed to share prescriptions, but she seemed really upset and I know what it’s like to have chronic pain. I brought her about five pills, she asked me for a few more one more time, and that’s the last I heard from her about it. I assumed she got what she needed from her doc.

Recently, I have had pills coming up missing. I usually bring two with me, and take up to one and a half at lunch. I never really thought about locking my purse or anything because I have never had an issue with this sort of thing. Four times I have had pills stolen. The first time I just thought maybe I had forgotten them, the second time I became suspicious, and the third time I was convinced. I reported it to my boss and to HR. They asked if I wanted to file a police report, but I declined. I didn’t want to come right out and accuse my friend. It’s an awful position to be in.

So I told her that I reported the incident, and she acted like she was in sympathy with me for the theft. I didnt’ want to think it was her. So for the last week I have locked my purse up. Well, today I forgot to lock it up for three minutes while I went to the bathroom. I was gone for a very short time. When I got back and went to take my medication, one of my pills was gone. I am now convinced that she is the one doing this. I told my manager, but there is nothing they can do besides make a report.

Should I confront this girl? I want to look her in the eye and ask. If I was anywhere but work I would have gotten to the bottom of it sooner. I just don’t want to cause a scene or make things uncomfortable. But really, things are uncomfortable as they are now. I think she knows I know, but she keeps doing it. She acts weird when the subject comes up, and the everyday conversations feel forced.

I’ve wondered if I could set up a trap or a tiny camera or something to catch the perp, but I don’t know how to go about it.

I know it’s partially my fault for not locking up my stuff, but I am just not used to having to worry about this stuff.

Any advice or ideas on setting a trap?

You shouldn’t be blaming yourself because your coworker is a drug fiend. I suggest you file a report as 1) it’s a crime and 2) well, there’s no two. If you wanted, you could confront her, but I don’t think that will solve anything. She will [most likely] deny it and you’ll have to keep buying more pills to support someone else’s habit.

I’m sure someone will come along shortly with a slippery slope about how she’s going to steal your cash and then murder you, but as it stands now, she’s a thief and you’re the victim. Why would you want to do anything other than solve the problem?

I suggest you not make any accusations. You need PROOF and all you have right now is suspicion. I’m sure you can rent a nanny-cam to confirm your suspicions. You could probably call a private investigation firm to find out how to go about setting up a camera.

Yes, but how?

Nanny cam sounds good. Where do I get one?

The OP has reported it to the employer, but did she tell them who she thought did it? If not, she should, since a nameless accusation won’t help much. The co-worker is evidently a drug addict but not necessarily evil. The company might have an employee assistance program for substance abuse; if that is the case, the co-worker deserves the chance to use it before she is consigned to the criminal justice system. If you haven’t gone through that, or know someone who has, you have no concept how that will devastate her life.

Meanwhile, the OP should keep her meds in a secure location, like a locked desk. I can’t conceive of anyone leaving them in an unlocked drawer or purse. We’re talking about controlled substances here, and I think it’s incumbent on the legal possessor of such drugs to exercise due caution.

As it’s going to take some time and a bit of effort, not to mention luck, to set up an inconspicuous NannyCam, couldn’t you just have a “hidden” co-worker watch your stuff the next time you go to the bathroom? Do you have a private office or cubicle? How easy is it to monitor someone’s entry into your private area?

If you want to go the camera route you don’t need anything fancy. Any camcorder will work just fine. If she works really fast she won’t have time to look for a camera. And why should she expect a camera, anyway?

I don’t know that setting a trap is your best option, though. It’s what I would do, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you do what I would do. I do a lot of things that I wouldn’t tell other people to do.

There’s always the (sorta) direct approach: "Somebody is stealing meds out of my purse. I know who the person is, but I haven’t reported her yet because I want her to get help. If she comes to me for help, I will gladly do whatever I can for her. If she steals my meds again, I’m calling the cops and letting her get treatment through the criminal justice system. But she’ll go to jail and probably lose her job, so I really hope I don’t have to go that route…

So how was your weekend?"

Yes, this is so true. I know it’s my fault for leaving it unlocked. It’s just hard to remember after two years of not worrying about it.

I don’t want to ruin this girl’s life or anything, but if she’s stealing my medication that she knows I rely on then I have a hard time feeling sorry for her. She knows I would help her out if she asked. It’s the idea that she would take something fully knowing that I will need it for my own pain.

I honestly don’t know what to do. I will have to remember to keep things under lock and key. But still, I want to catch this person.

I second this idea. Just have another co-worker come to your desk pretending to need something from you at the same time you are away. Have you discussed this with any other co-workers?

fingerprints?

alarmed purse?

Do you really want to catch her, or do you just want her to stop doing it?

I agree, you’re in a really awkward position, and it’s difficult to be 100% vigilant about keeping things locked up. Could you not carry your medication on your person, in a pocket, or one of those little things that go round your neck (I know it sounds weird, but I quite often keep things in my bra for safekeeping…)? If not, your employers are aware of the situation - can’t they help? Is there a safe where you could keep your pills?

If you do catch her, what then? You have a potentially very difficult workplace situation on your hands.

Leave a little note with your stash. “Dude, quit taking my stuff. It’s not yours, and I need it.”

Then substitute some heavy-duty laxatives for your drugs.

A few weeks ago I put up a note that says: “Attn: Thief, If I catch you stealing from me, I will report you and do my best to get you fired. I will also file a police report. Stealing medication is a federal offense.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it doesn’t matter as the thief was not deterred.

I really do want to catch her now.

I’ve considered putting different pills in my bottle, ones that won’t really do anything. I wonder if she’d steal them if they didn’t look exactly like the ones I use now.

I could leave my desk and then peek around the corner to see if she goes to my desk. Hmm, I need to figure out how to be sneaky enough to catch her.

They make those little ladyfingers with two string ends that you tape to a door and frame which explode when opened. Same could work for your purse and the desk.

They should be available for you… say… a couple of days before New Years.

I used to have stuff go missing from my desk, so I set up a Logitech Webcam 4000 and used the bundled motion detection software. I just configured it to record a movie to the hard drive when someone entered my cubical area, and it worked like a charm.

Hiding the camera was easy as I had a fair amount of clutter on my desk, so I just put some black tape over the camera LED and stuck the camera to the side with some junk piled around it.

It caught the night security guard going through all the drawers. He got sacked.

Maybe you could put some pungent perfume on the container and sniff her out after she gets it on her hands.

Just wondering - are you totally sure that it’s her? Could it be someone else? Maybe someone overheard your coworker’s attempt to get a refill and your kindness, and is pilfering pills with the hopes that if it’s noticed, you’ll blame the other coworker instead.

Or you could put ink on the bottle that will rub off on her hands.

At GNC I noticed they sold pill bottle keychains. You might affix one of those to something you usually wear, like an i.d. lanyard or wrist keyring. That way, until she’s caught or gets help, you won’t have to remember to lock up.

I am going to go for the Mercy way here. Just keep your pills locked up. Don’t mention it any longer. Do get a few pamphlets about prescription drug addictions and leave them on her desk secretly, for a while. That’s it.

But note- cash may be the next thing to go, so watch it!