10.26.2011: Could Organized Crime Be Partially to Blame for US Drug Shortages?

By Angela Atkinson Posted October 25, 2011 17:00
Did you hear about the $75 million drug heist at Eli Lilly’s Enfield, Conn. Warehouse in March of 2010?

Thieves cut a hole in the roof of the warehouse one Sunday that month and rappelled inside, quickly disabling the alarm. They then worked for at least two hours, filling tractor trailers full of anti-depressants, cardiovascular and cancer-fighting drug before they quietly left.

Not only did they steal $75 million worth of goods, but the thieves brought another major issue to light: organized criminals are stealing pharmaceutical products in record numbers. While these criminals aren’t usually linked to notorious organized crime families, they do engage in an active form of organized crime.


Apparently, the big payouts available from pharmaceutical thefts are irresistible to professional thieves, especially when you consider that the average bank heist brings a thief a mere $10,000.

These days, pharmaceutical thefts have decreased because drug manufacturers and providers are required to take additional measure to protect the supply chain, but industry insiders say this doesn’t make the problem any less serious.

As Scrubs & Suits reported yesterday, there’s already a problem with drug shortages among hospitals, and it’s already affecting patient health. These pharmaceutical thefts could be part of the problem, and they’re definitely exacerbating it.

The FDA reports that cargo thefts are a common occurrence in the industry. From drugs to supplies to durable medical equipment, it seems nothing is safe from organized crime. Just take a look at this exhaustive list the FDA has complied of healthcare-related cargo thefts between 2010 and 2011, toward the bottom of the page.

Clearly, this problem is far from solved.

“These crimes threaten the public health because product that has left the legitimate supply chain poses potential safety risks to consumers,” wrote Acting Asst. Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Michael A. Chappel in a statement. “There have been several cases where patients experienced adverse reactions from stolen drugs, reactions that were most likely due to improper storage and handling.”

In March of this year, Senator Charles Schumer and other senators introduced a new bill that is designed to combat these thefts. Since there were reportedly $184 million worth of prescription drugs stolen last year in the US, and since the abuse of prescription drugs is the fastest-growing drug problem in the country, it’s about time the issue is addressed.

“When criminals get their hands on these drugs, nothing less than the integrity of our medical system is compromised, and that’s because stolen drugs often make it back into our pharmacies and hospitals,” Schumer told the Washington Post.

Schumer’s bill is called the SAFE DOSES Act and he introduced it along with Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, among others, with support from the Coalition for Patient Safety and Medicine Integrity. If it’s passed, the SAFE DOSES Act would mean increased penalties for theft involving medical products and would give law enforcement officials additional options to help them deal with and put a stop to the criminal organizations that steal such products.

As it stands now, stealing pharmaceuticals gets criminals the same kinds of punishments as any other theft—but if the bill is passed, punishments will be stiffer and could feasibly discourage this type of theft.

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