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18 Wheels and a Dozen . . . Thefts? How to Protect Your Pharmaceutical Cargo

Truck and Trailer ImageLast year, the U.S. experienced 946 incidents of cargo theft, naming 2012 as the worst year on record, according to FreightWatch’s recently released 2013 Global Cargo Theft Threat Assessment. However, for the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S., 2012 was a huge success. Historically afflicted with high-value losses, the industry experienced its best year on FreightWatch’s record. Not only did the industry have the least amount of incidents when compared to previous years, but also the average loss value hit an all-time low (dropping from $3.78 million in 2010 to $168,219 in 2012).

What is happening in the world of pharmaceutical cargo security that might contribute to this considerable progress? While attending the joint Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition (PCSC) and Rx-360 Educational Conference earlier this year, I learned about how the industry is and should be (1) reconsidering which products are at risk for cargo theft and (2) implementing best practices to minimize that risk.

Reconsidering Risks. I thought that the conference would focus on all things relating to controlled substances (Schedule II to IV drugs) or special security substances. To my surprise, Pharmaceutical Cargo Security has a much broader reach and concerns all pharmaceutical products—not just those subject to abuse. Equally surprising was the fact that sophisticated criminal networks are not targeting what you might expect, such as the scheduled drugs, because convictions involving these drugs carry long mandatory sentences. No, the smart criminals are targeting prescription drugs that can be sold into the legitimate supply chain. The potential market for these drugs is much larger, and up until the enactment of the Safe Doses Act, penalties were small! Question: are the products you are actively protecting against theft the same products that are truly at risk?

Implementing Best Practices. I was also surprised to learn that many pharmaceutical cargo thefts can be avoided by employing some fairly basic best practices. As we reviewed some recent thefts and recoveries, I noticed how often these were not followed, and trouble ensued—it’s not rocket science.

Some of the common best practices are as follows:

    1. High value loads should be escorted by a driver and co-driver, and the load should never be left unattended.
    2. No stops should be made for 200 to 250 miles from the point of pick up.
    3. No weekend shipments should be made—bad things happen on the weekend.
    4. Check the drivers’ government issued IDs before releasing a load—fake pick ups are on the rise.
    5. The vehicle and load should contain GPS tracking devices.

Before I mention the final item, let me pose a question:

To guard against cargo theft, which option would be your preferred trailer?

(A) A generic white trailer without markings
(B) A purple trailer with large logos

Although somewhat counterintuitive, the answer is (B), a purple trailer with large logos.

While a generic white trailer might seem like a good option in keeping the load’s contents confidential, it is also much easier for criminals to blend their stolen loads into everyday traffic. Hiding a purple trailer is a more difficult task. So, #6:

  • Use a distinctive trailer that is easy to recognize and differentiate from other trailers on the road, as it is much easier to visually identify and hence, to recover.

Any cargo theft in the consumer supply chain is unacceptable, as it has the potential to introduce altered, unregulated, and harmful products to the market. Our job as members of the supply chain is to discourage any theft by reassessing what we view as a potential risk and by subscribing to common best practices.


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Curtis Strother

Curtis Strother

Project Manager & Senior Technical Services Scientist at BioConvergence LLC
Curtis has extensive experience in BioPharma API and drug product contract manufacturing, including sourcing, technology transfers, process validations, and supply chain management. His project experience spans from early stage development through late life cycle and has included complex global projects involving US, European, and other global regulatory authorities. Prior to joining BioConvergence in 2010, he worked for Targanta Therapeutics (now The Medicines Company) and Eli Lilly in a number of management roles.