Tony Pelli, practice director, security and resilience at BSI Supply Chain Services and Solutions, shared recent trends in pharmaceutical cargo theft, highlighting
upticks in theft of PPE and medical devices due to COVID-19.
1. Pharmaceutical cargo thefts account for a relatively low proportion of all cargo theft at 2.9%. The top commodities stolen are food & beverage, electronics, and
alcohol and tobacco, with pharmaceuticals ranking at the 11 th spot for overall theft.
2. In 2019, pharma theft tended to happen most often via hijacking—accounting for over 40% of thefts—and facility break-ins. With such high value cargo, smaller
incidents perpetrated by smash and grab, employee theft, and theft of container/trailer are less likely than in consumer goods and automotive industries.
3. The median value of a pharma theft is $100,000. Pelli said, “Even the smaller pharma thefts are larger than the typical thefts in other industries,” including food and apparel. “When pharmaceutical thefts happen, they tend to be big… an entire truck, a facility break-in.
4. The top countries where thefts occur varies quite a bit from year to year. Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. were the top three countries for pharma cargo theft in 2019.
Recently, Italy has bubbled up as more of a hot spot, as well as India.
5. One of the biggest pharma thefts in 2020 was in Italy, in which $1.2 million in oncology drugs were stolen from a cold storage warehouse. The second largest,
also in Italy, involved approximately $600,000 worth of pharmaceuticals stolen from a distributor. In that case, employee involvement was suspected in a long-running
scheme. Pelli noted that due to organized crime, Italy has a fairly sophisticated network for stealing and redistributing drugs to other countries. “That’s something that we’ve seen over and over again—drugs are siphoned out of legitimate markets in Italy, and in some cases resold in places like Germany, where you can get much
higher prices for them,” he said. Higher prevalence of mafia activity equates to greater numbers of cargo thefts, including in regions such as Naples.
6. The most targeted drugs still depend on the region. In Mexico, the most targeted drugs were (as expected) erectile dysfunction treatments and (unexpectedly)
oncologic drugs. Typically more specialized medicines for cancer and arthritis require a more sophisticated resale network. “This is suggestive of the kinds of risk
factors in Mexico with its greater organized crime presence than you see in countries like the U.S. or Canada, where thefts are targeting more expected opioids or lifestyle drugs,” noted Pelli.