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Transporting pharmaceuticals is arguably more important than manufacturing them, because it enables these lifesaving medications to make it to where they are needed most. Shipping these products requires an extra level of care to ensure the products make it to their destination. When transporting pharmaceuticals, how can logistics workers do it safely, and what precautions are necessary for things like temperature control and to guard against theft?

Guarding Against Cargo Theft

Cargo theft is one of the largest risks associated with pharmaceutical manufacture and transport. Between May and June 2017, more than 90 percent of cargo thefts involved trucks. Many pharmaceuticals, especially controlled substances, are highly coveted because they can command a high price on the streets and the black market. Theft is also one of the biggest causes of product adulteration and product counterfeiting.

The first step to preventing cargo theft is to complete a risk assessment. Find out where you are vulnerable to cargo theft. Is it during loading and unloading? Are your most significant risks on the road, or are they present when the truck stops for fuel or to allow the driver to sleep? Make sure to pay attention to product return flow and the transportation of items that get returned to the manufacturer for destruction. These cargos are also at risk.

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Other things to consider include the civil and political state of the countries where your drivers are traveling, external risks like market trends and cargo crimes and the type of product your trucks are carrying.

Most pharmaceutical companies will have a set list of their own “rules of the road” — instructions for drivers that include things like route assessments and expected behaviors. Adhering to these rules can help reduce risks.

Cargo Temperature Concerns

When transporting pharmaceuticals, the cargo must remain at a certain temperature to maintain their safety and efficacy. Food, especially frozen foods, and beverages may have to be carried at a lower temperature than pharmaceuticals, but it is still important to ensure you are maintaining cargo temperatures. The exact temperature will vary depending on the pharmaceuticals you are shipping — it could be anywhere from -58 degrees Fahrenheit to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Without proper temperature controls, these pharmaceuticals could become dangerous to use.

Cold chain transport is integral to safe transportation of these medications. There are two types of cold chain packaging for transporting pharmaceuticals — active and passive.

Active cold chain means the truck has built-in cooling units designed to keep the entire cargo area at a constant temperature. Passive cold chain is what you get when you order meat from the Internet — Styrofoam or polystyrene packaging and ice or dry ice to keep the products cold. The latter presents a problem with pharmaceutical transportation, though — it could allow the products to get too cold or even to freeze, damaging them during transport.

Active cold chain transportation is the better option for temperature-sensitive products like pharmaceuticals.

Ways to Mitigate Theft Risk

What can you do to mitigate the risk of theft on your supply chain?

Specific driver instructions can be an invaluable tool. Anything from minimizing the amount of time drivers spend in unsecured areas like truck stops or rest areas by having drivers arrive fully rested and fueled, to making them aware of increased security risks in their delivery area, can help ensure a successful transport.

Your drivers are your first line of defense, and while you should not expect them to put themselves at risk, making them aware of potential risk factors so they can spot and report them can help reduce overall cargo theft numbers.

Only use hard-sided trailers for transporting secure cargo like pharmaceuticals. Cargo should also be sealed tightly and secured to the truck bed to make it more difficult to steal. Equipping your trucks with real-time GPS tracking can be helpful as well — it can alert you when a truck isn’t where it is supposed to be or is stopped outside of its intended routes, so you can alert the driver or the authorities if the driver becomes indisposed.

Ensure someone confirms driver identity at both pickup and delivery. One way to do this is to forward a photo of the driver and his or her information, as well as identifying information for the truck such as make, model, color, VIN, etc., so the driver and truck can both be confirmed before a shipment is loaded.

For high-risk shipments, using a two-person team so the cargo is never unattended can help increase security as well.

Trucks move more than 75 percent of the goods shipped nationwide. Risk assessment and mitigation are essential to ensure products arrive safely and promptly. By paying attention to your potential risks, shipping all products at the proper temperature and taking steps to eliminate the risk of cargo theft, you can confirm you are completing your role in the pharmaceutical production process successfully.