Top 10 Pharma Cargo Thefts by Value, 2009/2010

Drug Cargo Theft: The New Goldmine

Big pharma means big money, especially for thieves. In a much publicized and spectacular heist, burglars made off with $75 million worth of drugs from an Eli Lily warehouse in Connecticut last March. That's one high-value hit. But it's just one incident in a growing crime wave targeting pharmaceuticals.

Although warehouse thefts like Lilly's are on the rise, cargo theft mainly occurs in transit as thieves make off with unattended tractor-trailers at truck stops or parking lots. Violent hijackings are rare because of the severity of criminal charges. Advanced reconnaissance is the tactic of choice, with thieves conducting field ops to find vulnerable and valuable targets. 

  • Eli Lilly Warehouse - $76M
  • Eli Lilly Truck - $37M
  • Teva Truck - $11.8M
  • Novo Nordisk Truck - $11
  • Astellas Truck - $10M
  • Unknown company - $8.8M
  • GSK Warehouse - $5M
  • Exel Distribution Center - $3M
  • Dey Pharmaceuticals Truck - $2M
  • Dey Pharmaceuticals Truck - $2M

Stolen drugs are most often shipped to Latin America or to illegal online pharmacies. Sometimes they also make their way back into the legitimate supply chain with new fake labels. This poses a potent public health risk that keeps the FDA involved, issuing recalls and investigating cases through its Office of Criminal Investigations.

U.S. pharma cargo thefts, 2009

Aside from the appealing pay-off, cargo theft has gained momentum in the U.S. because of the relatively light penalty thieves risk if caught. As reported in Security Director News, cargo theft in the past has been viewed as a victimless crime, leading to slow response from law enforcement. According to Keith Lewis, task force agent for the major theft unit of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, "This is a very easy crime to commit and get away with. Law enforcement does not understand the nature of this crime." Click here for a map 2009 U.S. pharma cargo thefts (pictured, left), courtesy of FreightWatch International.

Greater industry efforts to combat the crime are already having an effect, however. The Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) offers a snapshot of cargo-theft in its 2009 incident information report, noting, "With an insight into the industry, the data signify the beginnings of a trend toward improvement--and a greater adherence to supply chain security practices throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain."

Cooperation is improving between industry and law-enforcement. Companies like FreightWatch and the newly minted CargoNet offer loss control services, including compiling crime data and coordinating with law enforcement. CargoNet managing director Maurizio Scrofani told us, "There is a problem in fragmentation [of data]. You need a central database to tie in regional databases, which is a common way of pulling in law enforcement."