Why the "Mission Impossible" Drug Heist at Eli Lilly Was Not a One-Off Event

Last Updated Mar 19, 2010 12:39 PM EDT

A recent string of pharmaceutical robberies, culminating in the Mission Impossible-style heist in which thieves lowered themselves through the roof of an Eli Lilly (LLY) warehouse in Connecticut to get $75 million of drugs, is a product of two factors:
  1. Drug prices in the U.S. are twice what they are in other countries, making them theft targets.
  2. The FDA does not have the resources to stop or even impound dodgy shipments of black market drugs.
Those two things have created a drug thief's paradise in the U.S. Ron Greene, a spokesman for FreightWatch International, a shipping security firm, told the AP:
According to Greene, pharmaceutical theft is virtually nonexistent in Europe, where government controls keep drug prices low and most people have health care coverage.
The robbery trend is up, according to the WSJ:
  • 2010 YTD 10 thefts totalling $110 million
  • 2009 46 thefts totalling $184 million
  • 2008 35 thefts totalling $41 million
Recent examples include the Ocean's 11 of Meth, a caper in which robbers made off with 1,000 pounds of pseudoephedrine from a Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) plant in Kansas City, sold it for up to $10,000 per pound and netted $40 million in crystal meth sales. Twenty-two people were indicted in that scheme. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Novo Nordisk and Bayer (BAY) have also been targeted.

The Sanofi case sheds some light on the Lilly incident: Sanofi was an inside job, and it looks that way with Lilly too. How else would the robbers know where to enter the roof of the warehouse, or which pills were of value inside?

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