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New Standards for Drug Couriers

LAST-MILE COURIERS provide the final leg on deliveries of all types of products, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Yet these companies, which can range from those generating $10 million in revenues to small operators with a pickup truck, have gone largely unregulated.

As a result, these carriers represent a weak link in the supply chain, which can lead to problems such as offering criminals an opportunity for theft. And theft is a major concern; distributors reported 3,964 “lost in transit” incidents between 2001 and 2006 (the most recent statistics available). Last-mile couriers are a major piece of that transit process.

The National Transportation and Logistics Association (NTLA), whose membership includes not only courier companies but also insurance and technology firms, wants that to change. The association has been at the forefront of efforts to develop best practices for last-mile couriers.

The association spearheaded standards for last-mile couriers carrying financial documents a few years ago. This March, the NTLA developed guidelines for those delivering the last-mile leg of pharmaceutical products. NTLA has a program whereby carriers that agree to follow the practices undergo training provided by the association and then are audited and certified as being in compliance with the standards.

The certification process costs $1,200, which does not include audit fees. The group is now providing training classes for interested companies.

The guidance covers a range of issues. For example, it offers recommendations for conducting background screening of drivers. It also discusses what should happen during the delivery, known as field activity.

Field activity is the greatest area of vulnerability, according to Mike France, director of messenger courier contracting at Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, Inc., a major pharmaceutical wholesaler. For example, field activity includes such topics as where to park while making a delivery. While some of the standards’ advice is common sense, France says drivers need to be made aware of certain critical issues, such as the need to park near a streetlight if it’s still dark out.

Following the recommended practices may reduce losses dramatically, says Mike Maenner, security and compliance director of last-mile company AEXGroup, who also helps NTLA spread the word. The NTLA wants it to become known that “there’s a big difference between someone who adheres to these standards and someone who doesn’t,” says Maenner.

But the last-mile industry isn’t completely on board. AEXGroup owner and NTLA president J.D. Gamble admits that although wholesalers have tended to support the standards, some last-mile companies have some “concerns on whether they’re going to be able to reap the financial benefits that would be associated with certification in terms of awarding of the work and that sort of thing.”

He adds, “there’s an economic question out there with some of the smaller companies as to whether it’s worth it for them to participate.”

Only 10 companies had begun working toward certification at press time, and none had completed the process. France says he isn’t sure why no companies have yet completed the process. He asks: “Is it price, is it process, is it capital investment, what’s the challenge?”

One reason the industry has been slow to support the standards may be that it’s not yet clear that having certification gets you business or that not having it costs you, says France. For Cardinal’s part, France says that since no companies are certified yet, the lack of certification can’t be a disqualification, but a company’s attempts to follow the standards and become certified will be considered in the process of choosing couriers in the future.

The NTLA stresses to last-mile couriers the importance of the standards by emphasizing that groups like the Drug Enforcement Administration are looking closely at all aspects of the supply chain, says Gamble.