Fighting Crime with Serialization

The healthcare supply chain may be getting safer. Surprisingly, the recent strides that have been made have been in removing suspect products from Internet auction sites.

LeadsOnline is an online database system that houses serial codes and other identifying numbers of products on sale at businesses such as second-hand stores, Internet drop-off stores, and others across all 50 states. For instance, LeadsOnline is an official partner of eBay.

Law enforcement agencies subscribe to the site and use it to research reports of stolen property. Such crimes include large organized retail thefts of pharmaceutical-related items, such as weight-loss pills, smoking-cessation patches, and other items stolen from pharmacies and retail locations.

“Many times, those thefts are done by groups of people working together and are pretty quickly sold to secondhand stores or online,” explains a representative for LeadsOnline. “Law enforcement and even the larger retail chains have used serial numbers or batch numbers or something similar to track down and recover those items. Because LeadsOnline provides seller information and history when items are sold to pawn shops and on eBay, police are [often] able to piece together the theft ring and the individuals involved.”

I asked this representative what potential LeadsOnline may hold for drug manufacturers considering serializing pharmaceuticals. Is this something that could be of use to the Web site?

“I would think that those companies looking to serialize pharmaceuticals would be able to do much the same thing. They could even be a step ahead of law enforcement by entering the serial numbers of all packaging into a system such as LeadsOnline. Therefore, when the pharmaceuticals are sold places they shouldn’t be sold, that would immediately be flagged,” she explained.

Could protecting pharmaceuticals be that easy? Years ago, when item-level serialization began grabbing the drug industry’s attention, people wondered whether there would be a master database for all those serial numbers. FDA didn’t seem to want to manage it, so who would do it?

When it comes to linking criminal to crime, item-level visibility just makes sense. As LeadsOnline points out, burglary investigators typically ask, “Do you know your serial numbers for the items that were stolen?” Lot numbers may not always be enough to support a criminal charge, especially if a given lot has been divided among different distributors or trading partners. How would you narrow your suspects to just one?

More than a couple truckloads of pharmaceutical products disappeared in 2009. Wouldn’t it be pretty cool if serial numbers tracked in such a database helped crack that case, and maybe deter others?

Daphne Allen, Editor

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