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    Pharmacy theft a growing problem

    Thefts of pharmaceuticals in transit to retail pharmacies have been on the rise over the past few years. While exact figures are unavailable, experts are alarmed by thefts of drugs from warehouses, shipping carrier distribution centers, and semi-trucks, despite numerous security and tracking measures.

    John Burke
    "Over the past few years, it has ramped up considerably. I think there has been a realization that prescription drugs are valuable, easily disposed of, and virtually untraceable once they are out of their original container," said John Burke, president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) in Lutherville, Md.

    Two high-profile episodes last year included the theft of numerous lots of Cymbalta, Prozac, and other medications from an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Conn., and the hijacking of a delivery truck carrying Ambien and other Sanofi-Aventis drugs in Puerto Rico. This spring, a truckload of azithromycin and other generic drugs was stolen from Greenstone LLC, a division of Pfizer, in transit to CVS.

    The pharmaceutical industry is stepping up efforts to reduce the thefts, and there are a few steps that pharmacists can take to increase awareness of drug thefts. "When they get an order, pharmacists should make sure they are getting what they ordered and that no products were tampered with," Burke said. Some thefts can go undetected, he noted, because at the manufacturer's warehouse or the carrier's distribution center, only 1 bottle is removed from a box, or products are taken from a sealed pallet, which is then resealed to appear full.

    "Pharmacists can make sure that if they were supposed to have 25 bottles of something, they have 25 bottles. Controlled substances, especially, should be closely watched, but Cialis and Viagra are targets too, because they can be sold on the black market," Burke said.

    Keith Hodges, owner of Gloucester Pharmacy in Gloucester, Va., and spokesman for the "Safeguard My Meds" public awareness campaign, said that delivery drivers and pharmacists can help thwart drug robberies. "Drivers should use unmarked vehicles so [would-be thieves] do not know they are carrying medications. We also need to work with drivers and make sure they are trained to cooperate. Their safety is first and foremost," Hodges said.

    Inside the pharmacy, he added, drug containers should be marked upon arrival. Gloucester Pharmacy uses a permanent marker to tag each bottle or container. "If they are taken onto the street, the police would be able trace the robbery back to the pharmacy," he said.

    Christine Blank
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.