Pharmaceutical Theft: A Growing Problem

Pharmaceutical Theft: A Growing Problem

June 30, 2011

Pharmaceutical theft was once a crime of little concern. As recently as 10 years ago incidences were few and not much attention was paid to these crimes. Over the last 5 years though, pharmaceutical cargo theft has been on an increasing, and increasingly expensive, rise.

Trucks transporting pharmaceutical products are a common target, although warehouses are also occasionally hit. Estimates consider the cost of pharmaceutical theft to shippers and transporters could be as much as $30 billion a year, with averages of $4 million per loss.

The drugs often wind up in overseas black markets or sold in the US via illegitimate online retailers. Pharmaceutical cargo theft is an even bigger problem in many South American nations than it is in the US, and incidents are on the rise in Western Europe, reports Newsweek.

Increasingly, pharmaceutical thieves are tending toward highly organized, technically sophisticated heists carefully planned to net large quantities of valuable drugs, often worth tens of millions on the market.

According to FreightWatch International’s 2010 Annual Report on US Cargo Theft 2010 average losses per incident were highest in cases of pharmaceutical theft, averaging $3.78 million per theft; the Lilly warehouse incident resulted in the theft of $76 million worth of products.

What can be done to combat pharmaceutical cargo theft?

The financial losses are serious, but it’s the threat to the security of the drug supply chain that poses the greatest risks. Major pharmaceutical companies are working with the FDA, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and manufacturers and wholesalers to best ensure the integrity of the chain, and are exploring tracing technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification Devices to combat theft and counterfeiting.

Signs indicate that these efforts may already be having an effect, as some statistics indicate slowing increase in pharmaceutical theft over the past 3 years, as manufacturers have worked together and with government, sharing information on thefts and using technology to protect the medicines in their supply chain and keep consumers safe.

Recovered stolen pharmaceuticals are generally destroyed by law enforcement officials.

Recent incidences

  • $1.4 million in human blood plasma from BioLife Plasma Services, a subsidiary of Baxter International
  • A stolen shipment of undisclosed value was recovered by law enforcement agents in Florida, including 70 pallets of products from Alcon Laboratories and Teva Pharmaceuticals
  • A shipment of various prescription medicines was hijacked in Puerto Rico


The race to introduce tracing technology:
FreightWatch International