Pharmaceutical company, police beat drug thieves

Exclusive: Drugmakers and authorities fight constant battle to keep stolen medicines off the market.

By
February 21, 2011 01:39
2 minute read.
Ron Tomer, director general of Unipharm

Ron Tomer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

In an alley in east Jerusalem late last week, an undercover police agent prepared to meet members of a sophisticated gang of thieves.

Three months earlier, in November, five gang members allegedly broke into a pharmaceutical plant shared by drug-makers Unipharm Ltd. and Trima Israel Pharmaceutical Products Maabarot Ltd. in Emek Hefer, and stole hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of medicines.

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Several days ago, the gang allegedly planned to reintroduce the medicine into the market, without any assurance that it had been stored correctly and had not gone bad.

After agreeing on a six-figure price, the “salesman” representing the suspects told the undercover agent that he would fetch the stolen medicines.

Nearby, masked Border Police officers were waiting in ambush, and a police helicopter flew just out of hearing and sight of the meeting.

When the suspect returned with the goods, officers moved in with guns drawn, and the helicopter swooped overhead to provide backup.

The operation was overseen by the Special Section of the Jerusalem Police’s Central Unit.

Ron Tomer, director-general of Unipharm, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the raid was the culmination of an outstanding joint effort involving the police, the Health Ministry’s Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit, and his own company.

He added that the phenomena of stolen medicines, which are not stored properly by criminals, and forged medicines, which can contain hazardous chemicals that harm peoples’ health, are most dangerous in instances when the drugs find their way into legitimate pharmacies without the pharmacists’ knowledge.

Some of the stolen products also find their way to clandestine drug labs, where they are converted into street drugs.

“Pharmaceutical crime is very lucrative for criminals, because they can take hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of medicines in a box, which would be the equivalent of a truckload of plasma TV screens,” Tomer said.

“That’s why we are always a target for thieves.”

Pharmaceutical manufacturers across Israel are routinely the target of complex break-ins. But thanks to last week’s raid, all of the drugs stolen from the Unipharm/Trima plant have been retrieved. They will be sent to a Unipharm storage facility, where they will be destroyed to protect public health.

“We invest in many methods to prevent break-ins, but they constantly try,” Tomer said. “It was very important for us to track down the stolen drugs and destroy them, to make sure that no one would purchase them.

“If stolen drugs are sold in a shuk or a kiosk, that worries me less, because the user is a little bit responsible for risking his health. The problem is that the thieves try to reintroduce the medicines into the formal supply chain, and they’re trying to entice middlemen,” he said.

Medicine manufacturers such as Unipharm, and the Health Ministry’s Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit, have been trying to push for legislation that would significantly increase scrutiny of the medicine market.

“We’ve only had partial success at present,” Tomer said.

A Sharon Police spokesman said five suspects were in custody and were being questioned.

“The investigation is continuing,” he said.


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