Cargo thefts spike as robbers target pharmacy deliveries

The U.S. pharma industry made huge strides in thwarting cargo thieves after a series of high-profile pharmaceutical heists rang a piercing wake-up call several years ago. It has used a mix of tracking devices, two-driver rigs and common sense to toughen up soft warehouse and truck targets. But losses are again on the rise as thieves are now hitting more vulnerable last-mile deliveries. 

According to a review by cargo security expert FreightWatch International, thefts doubled to 24 from 12 in the first quarter of 2013 over the same period a year ago. They accounted for 13% of the total number of cargo thefts across all product categories documented by FreightWatch. Average losses, which have dropped dramatically in the last several years, also ballooned. They hit nearly $235,000 in the first quarter, up from about $154,000 a year ago. The category covers prescription drugs, OTC products, vitamins and supplements, medical supplies, consumer goods and miscellaneous items. Prescriptions made up nearly half the number of losses at 47%, followed by consumer goods at 22%. OTC accounted for only 3% of losses. 

Chuck Forsaith says that efforts to fight the theft of tractor-trailers full of drugs continue to pay dividends but said the industry is facing a newly recognized challenge: a surge of attacks on the smaller courier-service vans that make deliveries from distribution warehouses to local pharmacies. "The increase is such that we now differentiate between FTL (full truckload) thefts between a manufacturer and a wholesale center and those between wholesaler and retailer," he said in a telephone interview. The "we" is the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition. Forsaith is chairman of the group and director of supply chain security for Purdue Pharma Technologies. 

In November, the coalition rounded up people from the top-10 largest drug wholesale distributors for a subcommittee, which is headed by Terry Carrico, vice president, corporate security & safety at McKesson ($MCK). The members are trying to scratch out some ideas on how to avoid these last-mile attacks, which have a greater chance of involving violence since they generally involve confronting a delivery person instead of stealing an unattended rig. Once the group comes up with some good ideas to present, it will invite in the courier services for a confab, Forsaith said.

"We are dealing with a different type of criminal. It is not the organized group like we have out of South Florida," Forsaith said. "These are locals who are opportunistic. The vans are easy to spot and it is easy to determine a delivery pattern. It increases their vulnerability. And there are thousands of these deliveries around the country a day."  

Forsaith said hard work by the organization has made a big difference in slowing and defeating attacks on tractor-trailers carrying drugs. He said in the first quarter, the coalition counted 8 attempts and the cargo was recovered within three hours in 6 of those incidents.

- access the FreightWatch International report here (sub. req.)