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We’ve discussed before the risks of shipping pharmaceutical products, one of them being the risk of theft whilst in transit. Sadly, this is a very real threat across the world as drugs sold on the black market can be very lucrative (depending on what they are), so it’s essential that products are packaged securely and sent with a reliable carrier, preferably on a direct route to lessen the transit time and the amount of people who may interact with the cargo.

Drug Thefts

Logistics analysis group Freightwatch released data in 2019 that suggested the value of stolen cargo (overall) across Europe alone is in the region of around €11.6bn. Regions of Italy including Lombardy, Campania and Apulia were identified as particular hotspots, although transport theft in general is typically underreported and as such this figure, and these areas, may see higher rates of this crime than there is data for.

Looking deeper into pharma cargo theft, a survey conducted by Daniel Ekwall (professor and cargo expert at the University of Borås in Sweden) estimated that pharma companies in Europe lose €233,750 worth of products each time they suffer a cargo theft, and this happens around 8 or 9 times a year. Hotspots for pharma cargo theft include Moscow, Dusseldorf and the South East of England, as well as Italy.

Concerns have been raised that organised crime groups such as the Mafia are behind a lot of these thefts, which in turn raises concerns around increased violence towards lorry drivers and anyone else who may try to stop the theft from taking place.

A wide range of shipments are targeted and they are not all drug related; in 2010 a shipment of human blood plasma was stolen in the US and eventually tracked down in Poland, en route to Austria. Prescription drugs also have widely increased values on the black market, including Xanax, Valium and Oxycontin. Baby formula is also lucrative, as it is very easy to resell on.

Multi-tiered Ramifications

The obvious loss of products results in monetary losses for the pharmaceutical companies, but they aren’t the only ones affected by a long shot. Pharma theft has far reaching implications including increased local drug abuse and dependence, theft-related violence, shortages in supply for caregivers and losses to courier companies who may have to pay back the worth to the supplier.

Protecting your Shipment

Protecting pharma shipments should be a priority to any manufacturer or supplier, both against theft and damage in transit (as this can also lead to shortages and monetary losses). There are a number of key points to check before a shipment should start on its journey to its end destination, including:

  • Choose a courier who can offer a direct route from start to finish – this may cost more but reduces the time the shipment spends in transit and the amount of times a truck is opened and closed by different people. Ensuring that the vehicle is tracked will help a quick response to a theft, and panic buttons are becoming more common for cargo drivers in general.
  • Some cargo companies will go to the extra degree of putting 2 drivers in a vehicle to ensure at any time there is a person able to drive (to reduce rest stops where a truck may be stolen) or if the other driver is injured during a theft and cannot move the vehicle away. Roof markings on vehicles, designed to be seen from the air are also becoming common.
  • As well as ensuring any temperature sensitive drugs and vaccines are kept maintained for longevity, packers should also ensure that the packaging materials being used offer both cushioning and secure protective facilities. This may include ice packs, outer cushioned boxes and security devices such as locks on exterior packaging. Some trucks also have specialist locks on trailers and doors.
  • If the products are high value, sending them in smaller batches at different times may result in less incidents, as the overall value per shipment is less and thieves will not want to keep committing thefts in the same place, as this would raise awareness and increase the likelihood of being caught. Pharma giant Pfizer only send small shipments into high risk regions, for example, to try and prevent against theft.

It is important to remember that no one strategy or device will be 100% effective against cargo theft on it’s own, and a multi-device or strategy is going to be the key to protecting and preventing against theft during transit.