Italian Medicines Agency representative identifies the powerful Camorra organized crime family as the alleged ringleaders of medicine thefts, with five truckloads of drugs going missing a month. European authorities recovered lots of the stolen cancer injectable drugs where the genuine medication had been replaced with low-cost antibiotics.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the recent discovery of counterfeit versions of the cancer medication Herceptin in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Finland can be traced to a sophisticated organized crime network operating in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. The Herceptin, a medication used to treat breast cancer, was suspected to have been stolen and adulterated before being slipped back into the European drug supply chain, according to Bloomberg News.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to Domenico Di Giorgio, director for the prevention of counterfeiting at the pharmaceutical watchdog Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA). He explained that the incident was not a random occurrence, but rather the work of an organized crime network based in Italy, with connections to organized crime groups in Eastern Europe and Cyprus. Approximately five truckloads of medication go missing every month in Italy, according to the report.

Domenico Di Giorgio also spoke to Reuters about the organized crime scam. He told them that “Italy has become the breeding ground for collecting costly products that are then shipped on to other countries across Europe in what is a very lucrative business”and that “All 28 European Union countries and police have been alerted.…”

He also warned Reuters that “the network is a kind of giant washing machine for illegally acquired products that focuses on expensive hospital drugs but also steals cargoes from trucks.” He said that other drugs are suspected of being adulterated as well, and are currently under investigation.

Some recovered stolen vials had the active ingredient replace a cheaper antibiotic and others had their contents diluted, according to Bloomberg News. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) described the situation as going “beyond EU and national current practices for handling quality or product defects; these are extraordinary circumstances driven by criminal activities that require special measures and strong collaboration from authorities across the EU.” EMA confirmed that two other medicines, Alimta (pemetrexed) and Remicade (infliximab) have been stolen.

To learn more about incidents of counterfeit cancer medication appearing in the U.S. drug supply, please read Black Market Cancer Drug Cases, 2007-2013.

By S. Imber