Eli Lilly suffers $75-million burglary of branded products stolen from a Connecticut warehouse

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - March 2010

Company says affected lots will no longer be distributed

What appears to have been a very professional burglary of a Lilly warehouse in Enfield, CT, on March 14 sets a recent record for the size of the heist, reported to be $75 million. (Ironically, Lilly also suffered the next-highest recent robbery, of a $37-million truckload last May that was quickly recovered). Brandnames involved in the theft include Cymbalta, Prozac, Strattera, Symbyax, Zyprexa, Gemzar and Alimta. The latter two are oncology drugs; the others are psychoactive drugs for depression and other disorders, but are not known as commonly used by drug abusers.

According to press accounts and sources close to the investigation, an (assumed) crew chose a Saturday night (the DC is closed over the weekend), cut a hole in the roof, rappelled inside, disarmed the security system, and then loaded some 70 pallets of Lilly products into a vehicle or vehicles and made their getaway. This was not an opportunistic grab of an unattended trailer on a highway rest stop, or a stickup of a pharmacy delivery, two of the most common types of drug theft.

A Lilly statement issued on March 17 stated that the company is not withdrawing shipments of these lots made before March 14 (which went throughout the US, Puerto Rico and US territories), but will cease further distribution of the specific lots. What’s not clear in that statement is whether the affected lots will be a total writeoff; if so, the financial consequences of the burglary could be considerably higher. Moreover, Lilly is telling pharmacists and patients to examine prescription packages closely, looking for signs of tampering. (Most of the affected products are packaged in 30-count bottles, or as vials.)

Pharmaceutical Commerce recently reported that there are troubling trends indicating that organized crime, or at least organized criminals, are targeting pharmaceutical shipments. Trucks that leave known pharma warehouses are followed, sometimes for hundreds of miles. Stolen trailers or cases of products often quickly melt away. A Novo Nordisk robbery about a year ago resulted in multiple FDA warnings when stolen insulin showed up in a Houston medical center. And while Lilly noted in its statement that “the U.S. pharmaceutical distribution system is tightly controlled and monitored, making it extremely difficult for stolen product to make it to patients through legitimate channels,” there are numerous illegitimate channels, including unlicensed Internet pharmacies.

"The Lilly break was the largest burglary of its kind within recent memory," says Chuck Forsaith, director of security at Purdue Pharma and head of an industry group, the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition. "As bad as it was we will ultimately learn from it and strengthen the physical security of all of our assets to guard against any future attempts at this type of criminal activity."

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