$75 Million in Drugs Stolen from Eli Lilly Warehouse

Last month, antidepressants worth $75 million were stolen from an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Connecticut. According to an article in the Spokesman-Review, “the thieves cut a hole in the roof, lowered themselves into the building on ropes, disabled the alarm system and stole enough drugs to fill a tractor-trailer. The stolen pharmaceuticals included the best-selling antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta.”

Last August, a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse was victimized in Richmond, Virginia. Two lots awaiting distribution to retail pharmacies were stolen.  

According to FreightWatch International, there were 46 pharmaceutical heists in the U.S. in 2009, up from 11 in 2006. These thefts were worth $184 million in 2009, up from $96.6 million in 2008. Most thefts involve cargo stolen from trucks or cargo containers, but thieves are increasingly targeting company warehouses. The reasons include spotty security; the fact that prescription drugs command a high price but are relatively small and easy to move; and organized crime has learned how to sell stolen drugs back into the wholesale channel. All of these factors make pharmaceutical thefts extremely lucrative.

Because these thefts are being done by sophisticated criminals, theft prevention will be difficult. Standard prevention measures include carefully screening employees before hiring them; having caged off areas in warehouses that only authorized workers can enter; installing high fences on the perimeter of the warehouse and security cameras; having security guards and requiring visitors to check-in at the entrance to the yard and the warehouse. 

All of these things should be done, but they are not cheap. Having security guards on site 24 hours a day costs roughly $200,000 a year. Traditional camera security is either too expensive or ineffective. Camera systems that are monitored continuously by humans can be costly, and the person doing the monitoring can become bored or experience sensory overload, and as a result miss key events. If you don’t monitor the cameras in real time, then all you can do is potentially identify a thief after a robbery has occurred. 

There are new technologies that are improving security.  As I highlighted last year in “Intriguing Logistics Products,” ViewPoint CRM offers products and services for “intelligent surveillance” or “remote guarding.”  This system combines digital cameras with advanced software to analyze the captured images, loudspeakers, digital storage, and fast data networks. The company monitors customer sites from a centralized remote location. The intelligent software combines motion detection and surveillance analytics to highlight events that need attention from the monitoring agents.  For example, if a monitoring agent at Viewpoint’s command center sees a person engaging in potentially questionable behavior, he can announce himself to the person via the installed loudspeakers and let the person know that their action is not permitted while a different agent notifies the police. 

But enhancing security in the upstream pharmaceutical supply chain will never be the total answer to this problem. The ability for companies to trace lots all the way to the retail shelf, and authenticate that products have moved through a legitimate supply chain, will also need to be part of the solution. RFID has often been touted as a solution in this area. RFID can play a role, but it is currently not a silver bullet. You can place RFID tags on large bottles of pills, but this will not stop thieves from putting those pills into different bottles.

ARC is currently conducting research on how specialized packaging, and emerging applications and technologies, are being deployed to help prevent counterfeit and stolen products from entering the legitimate supply chain. This will be the subject of a future posting.


  1. Amazing that they would steal anti-depressant anti psychotic drugs some with an onset of action that can take 3-4 weeks to get a ‘feeling’.

    12 step substance abuse recovery programs often use the analogy of the street corner drug pusher to determine if a drug is illicit and addictive,it goes like this:If I sold Prozac,zyprexa on the street corner they would come back the next day and beat me up as they would not get ‘high’.
    Daniel Haszard

  2. The real problem is that there are so many drugs being produced by Big Pharma in the first place. It’s actually disgusting.

    I am so annoyed with this whole Big Pharma situation and our prescribing ourselves into oblivion. You can find out some interesting information from a couple of the expert organizations in the area, Ralph Nader’s group, PublicCitizen.org and Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights, CCHR.org.

  3. Now there will be kids buying psych drugs at the schoolyard!!

    I checked out the website meriditht mentioned Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights, CCHR.org and they have the lowdown on this whole scene

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