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Overhaul Your Understanding: Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Security

Welcome back to our expert interview series, Overhaul Your Understanding. You can listen to our interview with Chuck Forsaith, Vice President of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance’s Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition (PCSC), or read the interview below.

Welcome back to Overhaul Your Understanding, an expert interview series. I’m Amy Shortman, Director of Product Marketing at Overhaul. And today I’ll be speaking with Charles Forsaith, Vice President of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance’s Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition (PCSC).

As a way for our audience to get to know a little bit more about you, we’re going to ask you three questions to get started if that’s okay? So the first question is, if you could time travel, where, and when would you go and why?

[Laughs] If I could time travel? I don’t necessarily like to go anywhere in particular. I enjoy the timeframe that I’m in now. What I’ve been doing for the last 10 or 15 years is something that has allowed me to utilize a lot of skills that I’ve learned through my life and stuff like that. And I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now. I don’t necessarily think that I would transport myself to any other timeframe.

So you’d pass on time travel. Very good. What’s the one thing that’s currently on your bucket list that you would like to achieve?

It might sound kind of silly, but at the age that I am now and the experiences that I’ve had, and the ability to do what I do…what I would really like to achieve is — leaving a legacy, leaving some sort of a legacy to indicate that what I did, particularly in private industry has improved the safety and the security of the distribution of pharmaceutical products. I know that sounds kind of corny, but to me now at this time in my life, that’s one of the most important things.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Slow down. [Laughs] I have a tendency to, or I’ve had a tendency in the past to, as having been a law enforcement officer in the past, being able to think and act, or have to think and act very quickly on your feet to be able to handle particular types of situations. In the corporate world, it’s different, and the necessity to act rapidly isn’t the same as what it was in my past life. And getting used to that change and being allowed to think through a little bit more, how I’m going to react or what I’m going to do in a particular situation, took a little time getting used to. Several industry people who had never had a law enforcement and military career like I have, have stressed that to me on a number different times and it’s paid dividends.

Maybe we can start with that point. Chuck, could you just share with us briefly a little bit about your background and your career, particularly within law enforcement? That might be a good place for us to position and start the conversation.

I graduated from college in New Hampshire. I’ve always lived in New England, all my life. And my major in school was criminal justice. I went almost immediately into a law enforcement related field. I’ve started with a local police department and eventually worked my way to the New Hampshire state police. And I did 25 years with them.

And I had a number of different assignments . I worked in intelligence. I worked in narcotics and a lot of other places. I was able to retire at a very young age. I retired when I was 41 years old and I made my way into the private sector. I first went to work as a contractor for the Air Force, running security on a military installation. And then I decided to get into the private sector completely to try to make some money before I actually retired. I was hired by a pharmaceutical firm that specialized in opioid manufacturing and distribution, and the reason that I was attractive to them was the security background I had and the sensitivity of moving that particular drug pretty much all over the world. I worked for that company for 18 years.

I developed some special programs within that company to handle high-risk, high-value commodities, because opiates were at that time and still remain that type of a sensitive product. I eventually saw a lot of the difficulties in Opiate distribution, things like that with a lot of the lawsuits and things like that that were coming up. So I decided to shift gears and I went to work for an industry association. That industry association is the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.

While I was with that pharmaceutical firm, I developed a coalition, if you will. A group of individuals that were interested in supply chain security within the pharmaceutical industry, it’s kind of an ad hoc group, a group that grew from 20 or 30 people that had an interest in that, to well over 2000. So when I moved from that company to the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, I brought that coalition with me. That coalition is known as the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition (PCSC) and that is now a division within the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.

PCSC represents manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and also a number of the supporting vendors or entities that support distribution activities and pharmaceutical products. Trucking companies, airlines, rail, shipping from sea, insurance companies that insure those types of shipments. People that make technology, tracking devices, cargo seals, containers, things like that. Because we felt as an industry that one of our most important goals was to educate those around us, the vendors that were actually servicing us. So they would become sensitive to the concerns we had relative to security and the movement of goods.

So you’re currently the Vice President of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance’s PCSC. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that existed prior to the PCSC being created and then maybe deep dive into the actual creation of the PCSC and the story around that?

Back in 2000, mid two thousands — 2004, 2005, 2006 — there were a number of very high profile cargo thefts and supply chain disruptions that occurred within my industry. And those disruptions involved shipments in the millions of dollars. There were two particular instances that, that occurred a couple of days, apart from each other, both occurred in New Jersey. Both involved different pharmaceutical companies, but involved theft methodology that was the same in both cases. So, after the second one occurred, the two companies spoke with each other and realized that the attacks that had been made on them were very, very similar. So one of those companies decided to call a group of us together. So we could sit down and talk about this.

That initial meeting was about 25 people. Pfizer was the host of that meeting. And 25 security individuals from 25 different companies came in and sat down in a room together. And we had a talk about what was happening and what we found during that conversation was what was happening to all of us at different times, the methodology was pretty much the same. The pharmaceutical industry is one that keeps everything to themselves, very quiet keeps to themselves, doesn’t really share a lot of information about what’s going on. We decided as a group because we were all former law enforcement, military people that we were going to create a forum to be able to share that intelligence so we could better defend ourselves.

So as the story goes — I love telling this — about midway through that meeting, I had the need to go use the restroom and left the conference hall and went to the restroom. When I came back, I had been elected chairman of this new coalition that we had just created and was charged with driving it. And charged with growing it and making it worthwhile.

One of the things that we initially decided to do was to create a forum, to share intelligence about these types of instances, because we felt that was the best way to educate those, not only within the industry, but those that supported the industry as to what was happening. And that’s how the PCSC started. Again, we went from like 25 people in 2006 to, well, over 2000 people in just a very short period of time, only three or four years. We decided to include entities like law enforcement, both local, state, and federal. We created not necessarily alliances, but forums to discuss issues with regulatory agencies like the FDA and the DEA, a number of companies supported supply chain security programs with U.S. customs, things like CTPAT. We identified other groups, other industry associations that did things similar to us.

TAPA, was one that came to mind right off the bat. So we decided to create an alliance with TAPA, AEO. There were a number of outfits that we came to learn of that we’re doing the same things that we were doing. So we became not necessarily the centralized clearinghouse of all of this, but we tried to bring all of those groups together to get what they had already developed as best practices, incorporated into what we wanted to develop. Rather than reinvent the wheel. We went around and talked to everybody to see what worked and what didn’t work. And that has created a very vibrant industry association within the HDA known as the PCSC.

When we look statistically at cargo crime, it’s reduced over a period of time. That’s often seen by some, as the threat has reduced, but it sounds to me like that’s been done through the collaboration of these various organizations, really taking a focus and, and that’s probably shaped and had an implication on those numbers reducing. Do you have any thoughts on that?

No, I think, I think you’re exactly right. I think 10 years ago, or 15, as many as 15 years ago, there was no organized effort to be able to share intelligence and to talk about technologies that were available, or methods that could be used, or best practices that were out there to be able to, again, better defend yourself. So all of us TAPA, AEO, Rx-360, PSI. I mean that communicative atmosphere allowed us to be able to say, okay, I’ll take, for instance, a loss. We would take a loss and we would break that loss down, what went wrong. And we would look at different stages of what could have been improved. And then , we would broadcast that. I mean, we wouldn’t necessarily identify the victim in the case, just out of the embarrassment factor, but we would take everything that went wrong in that particular instance and we would highlight that and share that with the membership. That caused companies to change the way that they were looking at supply chain security and involving not only security people but logistics people, management people. We partnered with our insurers who had a vested interest in keeping these loads from being taken, and that education, which is an ongoing process. It’s not something that you educate somebody and you walk away. This process of intelligence sharing and education goes on and on, and will go on and on, well after I’m gone. It’s really the only way to defeat this problem. Numbers are down. You’re correct in indicating that the overall numbers of cargo theft are down, but the criminal element that targets us as we see it, is not necessarily just taking a break, they’re just going to shift their tactics as well to try to defeat what it is that we do now.

So it’s a process that is in fact, a process. It’s not something that you can rest your laurels on. You can’t do two or three or four things and then say, “Okay, that’s it. I mean, that’s going to keep us from having any more losses. We don’t need to do anything else.” This is an evolving discipline and always has been, as we get better, they get better. So it’s something you have to keep tabs on all the time, but PCSC sends out intelligence on a daily basis and that intelligence helps people better defend themselves against loss.

In terms of challenges within the industry, what do you see as the potential next wave, and what can be done to address that?

The challenge that stares us in the face at the moment is the distribution of COVID vaccines. COVID vaccines will be one of — from a security standpoint — will be one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced in this particular industry because of the attractiveness of the product and the speed at which there is a desire to be able to disseminate that product. So, not that we’re going to necessarily have to change tactics as to what we do to protect shipments, but we will have to increase the level of diligence in protecting those shipments.

We’ll have to use as much of the technological assets as we can, as much of those educational sharing assets as we can. There are a number of companies that are involved in the development of those vaccines that haven’t necessarily been active, within industry associations, like the HDA, or PCSC. So we’re reaching out to them, offering them assistance, education, best practice knowledge, and things like that, to be able to make sure that the dissemination of this vaccine goes as smoothly as the dissemination of medicines routinely due today.

Vaccines are time- and temperature-sensitive products and so product integrity is often at the forefront of shipper’s minds when they’re transporting goods. In terms of supply chain security risks, what particular areas do you feel are vulnerable and what is the industry doing to prepare for this?

Yes. I think that the industry itself is rallying. I mean the pharmaceutical supply chain is a very unique supply chain. It’s different than any other commodity in that, no manufacturer sells directly to a customer. Manufacturers, sell to distributors, distributors sell to retailers, and then retailers sell to you. So it’s a multi-tiered supply chain. And for that supply chain to be intact, for the integrity of that supply chain, to be a hundred percent across the board, all of those entities from manufacturer all the way down to retailer, to the point where you actually purchased the product, all have to be singing from the same sheet of music. The challenge is to get everybody playing from that same sheet of music. These types of shipments, going back to the vaccines, just the overall attractiveness of them from a targeting standpoint, from a criminal aspect, not only necessarily domestically, but there may be criminal elements from outside of the four walls of the United States that would be just as interested in getting their hands on these types of vaccines, illicitly as well.

It’s distinctly possible that we may see tactics that we haven’t seen before and attempting to interject and disrupt that supply chain, whether that’s going to be from a storage standpoint, whether it’ll be from an actual transportation standpoint. Transportation is, is the weakest link storage. You’ve got four walls of a building, the cameras you’ve got access controls, you’ve potentially got guards. You put a shipment inside a truck, and that truck leaves that facility, drives away from the building, drives outside of the gate, and really the only thing protecting that truck is the driver itself who becomes a very key element, a very important part of the supply chain. And whatever technological aspects you’d have on that particular shipment, to be able to monitor it from a distance. The driver becomes in that scenario, becomes key. The driver has to be an individual that buys into the whole idea that he’s just as important as the scientists that actually develop that drug because if the driver doesn’t get it to where it’s supposed to go, the patient doesn’t get it. So even though maybe the social status of those two people, the driver and the scientist, may be a little bit different and the salary status of both guys is a little bit different — the driver is just as important in that supply chain as anybody else.

I’m really glad you brought that up, Chuck. In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, I think that there’s been definitely a shift of recognition of drivers as key workers out there. Of course, when we were all under stay at home orders in lock down, they were the ones out ensuring that products were delivered so that we could maintain normality with regards to food, and medicines as well. Driver appreciation is often something we talk about in the industry. Can you give some examples of how you’ve put that into practice in the past?

There’s a week in the United States, I can’t recall exactly when that week comes up, but I believe it’s coming fairly soon…it’s essentially a week that’s dedicated to driver appreciation. One of the things that we do from the PCSC is, there’s a couple of videos that are put out by the American Trucking Association that highlight the job that truck drivers do for the American public. I mean, and it highlights things like the transportation during a pandemic, transportation during natural disasters and things like that. And we make sure that during that week, in at least two or three of the five or six PCSC alerts that go out that week, that the video is prominently posted.

When I worked for that pharmaceutical company that I spoke of before and before I came to work for the HDA, during that driver appreciation week, I had it arranged so that when drivers were coming in to make pickups or make deliveries at our particular facility, there was a special area set aside for them in the cafeteria for food, beverage, or whatever it was that they wanted. I made it a point on a number of times during that week to come down from my office, which was across the compound, walking over to the loading dock where the warehouse was and personally greeting these guys. I mean, going out of my way to get these guys as soon as they stepped out of the truck, shake their hand, pat them on the back, tell them how much we personally appreciated what it was that they did for us. And I think that had a lot to do with the fact that we never had a shipment loss or any significant supply chain disruption relating to the transportation of our products between the manufacturer and the distributor.

I really think that we made those men and women feel like they were a part — an integral part — of what it was that we were doing. And because of that, they paid more attention to what they were doing. They cared more and they treated our product as if it was their own.  I think that went an awful long way. And it’s still that way to this day. I mean, the people that took over for what my responsibilities were at that company are doing essentially the same.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience today to help them get a holistic view of the importance of the pharmaceutical supply chain from a security perspective?

As I said in the beginning, it’s all about education. Tthe PCSC is available for members and for non-members as an industry reference. You shouldn’t have to create these programs on your own. I mean, they’ve been created by people that know what they’re doing. They’re tried, tested, and true. And there are things that we’re willing to share with others. The PCSC not only has pharmaceutical members, but it has members such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Kimberly Clark, Hewlett Packard, and Sony. These companies recognize that collaborative effort, even though it’s primarily centered in the pharmaceutical industry. But they realized that the sharing of that intelligence, no matter where they get it from, whether it’s TAPA, whether it’s the PCSC, whether it’s AEO, it’s all to the benefit of keeping the integrity and their brand’s name clean, unsullied, in a way that gives the customer confidence in what they’re purchasing, whether it’s a hard commodity like nails or paper towels, or whether it’s more importantly, a consumable commodity, like a medicine, that what they’re buying is exactly what they were supposed to be buying. It’s in the shape, form, and condition that it was intended to when the manufacturer made it and that they have confidence that the product’s genuine and what they’re going to be taking, or what they’re going to be ingesting is okay. That’s worth everything to a company that makes particularly a company that makes consumable products.

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Chuck, for being on the Overhaul Your Understanding Podcast, you’ve shared loads of valuable information with our audience today.

Want to gain more insight into how to protect the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain from risk? Download the guide today.


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