Mafia behind most EU pharma cargo theft: €30m worth of drugs stolen each year says expert

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Gunshot in roadsign iStock/vins_m
Gunshot in roadsign iStock/vins_m

Related tags Crime Pharmacology

The Mafia is responsible for most pharmaceutical cargo thefts in Europe according to a researcher who says €30m ($33.5m) worth of drugs are stolen while in transit across the continent each year.

There is very little solid data on any type of cargo theft in Europe.

The official estimate is that €8.2bn worth of goods shipments are stolen each year. However, this figure is from a 2007 European Parliament report - “Organised theft of commercial vehicles and their loads in the EU”.

This week FreightWatch suggested​ the actual value is closer to €11.6bn, based on data from law enforcement agencies across the continent.

The transport analysis group identified the Lombardy, Apulia and Campania regions in Italy as particular hotspots for such crime.

FreightWatch also suggested pharmaceutical theft may be underreported, but said differences in law enforcement practices between countries make it difficult to estimate the monetary value of the products stolen.

Pharma cargo

This was echoed by cargo expert Daniel Ekwall, from the University of Borås in Sweden, who told us: “One of the problems surrounding reports is the lack of a mutual EU wide structure, so crimes are reported but the data is not in one place​.”

Ekwall’s efforts to estimate the extent of pharmaceutical cargo crime – which were detailed in a recent study​ - focused on approaching drug companies directly.

According to the survey European pharmaceutical firms suffer eight or nine cargo thefts each year losing €233,750 worth of products on each occasion. Extrapolating this to the whole industry gives a figure of €30.8m.

The research also identified Italy as a hot spot for such crime, however, the South East of England, Dusseldorf in Germany and Moscow in Russia were also mentioned as areas of concern by survey respondents.


The companies that took part in Ekwall’s survey also raised concerns about the increased involvement of organised crime groups..

Some predicted the Mafia’s more “business like” approach would see the number of cargo thefts increase. Others predicted a greater use of violence.

While such an increase in violent crime is worrying, it may actually prompt and increase reporting rates according to Ekwall.

He told us: “From a reporting point-of-view I do not think that theft of pharmaceuticals differs from other products. A simple rule here is that the larger value stolen at any given place, time or method the more likely is it to be reported.

“If violent modus involved it is almost certain to be reported​.”

Industry action

The drug industry can do a lot more to protect itself against cargo theft according to Ekwall, who suggested that: “There is a need for different levels of protections depending of type of pharmaceuticals.​”

But although protecting high value drugs should be a priority, the real challenge is to secure supply lines to prevent stolen products being reintroduced.

If you can sell the pharmaceuticals to normal price to a normal customer, without any traces of that specific product being stolen before, you are in a position that will allow large profits. This means that stolen products are being reintroduced into the legal supply chain" ​Ekwall said.

Study: Theft of pharmaceuticals during transport in Europe

Authors: Daniel Ekwall, Helmut Brüls, Daniel Wyer

Source: Journal of Transport Security

DOI: 10.1007/s12198-015-0162-x

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