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Pharma Thieves

Estimating the scope of cargo theft has been the subject of a number of studies over the past decade. In 2007, the European Commission found that around 8.2 billion euros’ worth of goods are stolen each year during transit through Europe (1). In February 2016, FreightWatch came up with a figure of 11.6 billion euros (2) – nearly US$13 billion – but what proportion of that figure can be attributed to pharmaceuticals?

Daniel Ekwall, Associate Professor at the University of Borås, Sweden, surveyed pharmaceutical companies, asking them about the value of drugs lost in each cargo theft. Ekwall and his colleagues found that pharmaceutical companies are losing €233,750 on average per theft and that firms suffer approximately eight or nine cargo thefts per year. The researchers extrapolated the figure to include the whole industry and combined the findings with those of another paper, reaching a figure of 30.8 million euros (3). Ekwall emphasizes that the figure is only an estimate and that the true value of pharma cargo theft is difficult to quantify.

“We found that Italy was a major hotspot for pharma cargo theft,” says Ekwall. “The result from the survey was very clear here – and this actually surprised me. I was expecting more activity closer to the largest cities in Europe, such as London  and Paris, because it is a pattern that can be seen in other statistics on cargo thefts in general.” Though Ekwall admits more research is needed to explain why Italy is such a hotspot, he suggests that it could be linked to organized crime groups in Italy and their involvement in black markets for pharmaceuticals. 

Another worrying trend picked up by the researchers was that violent theft is becoming a more frequent occurrence – with many drivers and terminal workers being threatened and/or assaulted. “To tackle this problem we need better security and, more importantly, better collaborations between the different stakeholders in this problem,” says Ekwall. “This means Law Enforcement Agencies and other Governmental Bodies as well as goods owners, carriers and insurance service providers.” Ekwall hopes that as more companies open their loss-books to researchers, better and more accurate descriptions of pharmaceutical theft will emerge.

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  1. European Parliament, “Organized theft of commercial vehicles and their loads in the European Union”, July 2007.
  2. FreightWatch, “Putting a price tag on underreported cargo theft in Europe,” February 2016.
  3. D. Ekwall, H. Brüls and D. Wyer, “Theft of pharmaceuticals during transport in Europe,” Journal of Transportation Security, 1-16 (2015).
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