NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drugs a Target for Terrorists

September 25, 2003

The nation's prescription drug supply is a potential target for terrorists, and preventing attacks could require politically difficult decisions, says Bill Livingstone, director of analysis at GlobalOptions, a Washington, D.C., research firm.

Worries about terrorism come amid concern that the U.S. drug supply -- still considered the safest in the world -- is increasingly vulnerable to counterfeits. The Food and Drug Administration has seen a fourfold increase in the number of counterfeiting cases since the 1990s, including this summer's recall of batches of the anticholesterol drug Lipitor.

GlobalOptions' findings include:

  • Terrorists use profits from counterfeit drugs to finance their operations: Among examples the report cites are a 1990 effort by the Irish Republican Army to sell a fake drug used to treat livestock and more recent efforts by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to smuggle into the United States an ingredient used in making methamphetamine.
  • Tainted products could be slipped into the U.S. drug supply through one of the hundreds of small wholesalers that buy and sell prescription drugs.
  • The Internet could be used by terrorists, who would lure buyers with promises of lower prices, then ship them tainted drugs.

Preventing attacks on the nation's drug supply could require difficult choices, such as banning people from getting drugs in the mail or closing down 80 percent of the wholesalers, says attorney Donald deKieffer, who represents drug, food and apparel companies.

Source: Julie Appleby, "U.S. drug supply a terrorism target?" USA Today, September 25, 2003.

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