Pharma – Cracking Down on Crime

It’s rare in the pharmaceutical industry when a drop in numbers is a sign of good news. Unless it’s fewer side effects, most industry insiders cringe when they hear that this year’s figures are lower than last.

However, SRxA’s Word on Health brings you news of a downward trend that should please all but the most criminal elements of society.

A new report from Freightwatch International shows that the number of thefts of pharmaceuticals significantly declined over the past 12 months.  Not only were there fewer incidents, the average value of each theft was lower.  In total, there were 36 thefts involving shipments during 2011, compared to 49 in 2010. And the average value of lost shipments was $585,000, down dramatically from $3.78 million the year before. Trailer thefts accounted for approximately 90% of the heists. Deceptive pickups and burglaries from warehouses made up the remainder.

This was the first year on record that the pharmaceutical industry did not have the highest value per theft incident. That distinction went to the electronics industry, where the most targeted items were televisions, consumer electronics and cell phones.

Significantly, there were just two pharmaceutical thefts valued at more than $1 million last year. In previous years, the average loss per pharmaceutical theft averaged between $3.5 million and $4 million. Two years ago, medicines worth up to $75 million were stolen from an Eli Lilly distribution center in Connecticut after robbers broke in by cutting a hole in the roof.  That incident resulted in national headlines and prompted the drugmakers  to improve security efforts and tighten the supply chain. Organizations such as the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition are now dedicated to preventing the theft of medicines in transit.

Nevertheless, pharmaceutical supply chain issues remain a hot topic.

RxPatrol is an initiative designed to collect, collate, analyze and disseminate pharmacy theft intelligence to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The FDA is also concerned about protecting consumers from the threat of stolen, counterfeit, and diverted prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Stolen products may put consumers at risk because they may not have been stored or handled properly or may have been tampered with while out of the normal supply chain.  An FDA website lists all thefts involving FDA-regulated products that have been stolen either from warehouses or tractor-trailers, and encourages the public to report any suspected criminal activity.

Earlier this month, the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) published its proposed general chapter on good distribution practices to ensure pharmaceutical supply chain integrity, for comment in advance of its upcoming workshop due to be held in May 2012.  The aim of the workshop will be to develop best practices to combat counterfeit active pharmaceutical ingredients, excipients, drug products and medical devices that are imported into the USA.

And that can only be a good thing. One of the most harrowing books I ever read was Dangerous Doses by investigative journalist Katherine Eban. In it she exposes a world of criminal activity and corruption and how an increasing number of Americans get counterfeit medicines instead of the real thing.

And while pharmaceutical thefts have not gone away, they are on the decline. For that we must be grateful this Monday morning.