Schumer: Increasing thefts of medical products fueling drug addiction and black market for medication


Theft of Prescription Drugs Fuels Crime in New York and Throughout Country, Endangers Patients Who Unknowingly Use Black Market Medication and Exposes Newborns To Harm

Long Island Teen Nearly Killed By Wrong Medicine After Pharmacy Unknowingly Purchased Stolen And Re-Labeled Prescription Drugs

Schumer: With Theft of Prescription Drugs at An All-Time High, We Must Combat Pharma-Theft At Every Part Of Supply Chain

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, joined today by Senators Rockefeller, Klobuchar, and Sherrod Brown, announced detailed legislation to crack down on the dramatically increasing theft of prescription drugs and medical devices - everything from Oxycodin to insulin to infant formula.  These types of thefts have skyrocketed and become increasingly sophisticated in recent years and threaten the safety and security of patients across the country. The case of Timothy Fagan from Long Island provides just one example of what can go wrong when criminals tamper with stolen prescription drugs. As the New York Times reported, the sixteen year old Long Island boy, "(E)xperienced painful spasms after getting a diverted dose of Epogen to treat his anemia after a liver transplant. The drug had been relabeled, stored in the back of a strip club and ultimately resold to a national wholesaler and dispensed by a pharmacy."

Pharmaceutical drug theft fuels crime and addiction throughout the country, endangers patients who unknowingly use these black market drugs, exposes newborns to harm and in some cases could even put money in the hands of dangerous terrorists.  To that end, Senator Schumer unveiled a plan to crack down on pharmaceutical drug theft along every point of the supply chain - from the warehouse to the delivery truck to the pharmacy. The plan would combat theft by hiking penalties, making theft of medical products a predicate for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law and giving law enforcement officials the tools they need - including wiretaps - to fight back against the dangerous drug rings.

"Theft of prescription drugs fuels crime, puts patients at risk who unknowingly use mismarked medication, and exposes newborns to harm," said Schumer. "With pharma-theft at an all time high, we must combat this problem at every part of the supply chain, and by giving law enforcement the tools they need to fight back against these dangerous drugs rings, I'm confident we can do so."

Senator Schumer is announcing legislation that would:

Increase possible sentences for robbing pharmacies of controlled substances;
Increase sentences for the theft of medical products and for transportation and storage of stolen medical products, and apply that increase to each current section of federal law that could be used by prosecutors to charge such crimes;
Enhance penalties for stolen medical product "fences," including individuals and organizations who knowingly obtain stolen products for resale into the supply chain;
Increase sentences when harm occurs or trust is broken - in other words, where the defendant is employed by an organization in the supply chain or where there was a death as the result of ingestion of a stolen substance;
Make theft of medical products a predicate for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, giving law enforcement access to wiretaps and other sophisticated tools;
Provide for civil penalties and forfeiture of ill-gotten gains derived from medical product theft.

As the numbers show, pharmaceutical drug theft, whether it takes the form of robbery of pharmacies, hijacking of pharmaceutical delivery trucks or other forms of theft, is a growing concern for law enforcement officials nationwide.  According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the amount of Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs) stolen in armed robberies doubled from more than 500,000 milliliters to nearly 1.1 million in 2007, while the amount lost in transit increased from more than 1.4 million milliliters in 2003 to more than 2.5 million in 2007.  Last year $184 million worth of prescription drugs were stolen in the U.S., a 350% increase from 2007.  Finally, since 2007 over 1800 pharmacies have been robbed. The crime wave has overwhelmed local law enforcement and drawn the attention of the federal authorities, but federal penalties for pharmacy theft are currently very low and do not provide federal law enforcement with all the tools they need.

Pharmaceutical theft not only leads to more addictive and illegal pain killers on our streets, it also puts in jeopardy the health of a patient who unwittingly uses these drugs after they end up on the black market or find their way back into pharmacies or hospitals. Stolen prescription drugs may end up in the hands of counterfeiters who can re-label or replace their contents with other ingredients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned last April that "There have been several cases where patients experienced adverse reactions from stolen drugs, reactions that were most likely due to improper storage and handling." The Wall Street Journal noted that "Last year, several diabetes patients lost control of their blood-sugar levels after they unwittingly used stolen insulin, which must be refrigerated," and in August 2010, the FDA issued a press release cautioning that the agency "has received multiple reports of patients who suffered an adverse event due to poor control of glucose levels after using a vial from one of the stolen lots."

Stolen infant formula that ends up on the black market can also endanger the health and well-being of newborns.  Following the arrest of 21 men and women who stole more than $17.5 million worth of Similac, Good Start and other brands of baby formula in 2009, the Orlando Sentinel wrote that "Thousands of cans of baby formula stolen from local grocers by a large-scale organized ring of thieves and resold on the black market could pose a danger to babies and newborns." Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd warned that "If you buy [the baby formula] on the black market, you may very well be poisoning your child."

The theft of infant formula has even been linked to terrorism. In a February 2005 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, then Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) Director Robert Mueller said "Middle Eastern criminal enterprises involved in the organized theft and resale of infant formula pose not only an economic threat, but a public health threat to infants, and a potential source of material support to a terrorist organization." According to the Christian Science Monitor the FBI has traced money from infant-formula traffickers in the United States back to nations where terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, are active. In a 200-page report, the National Retail Federation called "organized retail theft" of infant formula "a serious security issue" for retailers.