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Taking Security to the Next Level

May 1, 2007
Storing, packing and order fulfillment of narcotics brings new meaning to keeping secrets.

When it comes to handling narcotics, there is no such things as too much security. Schedule II narcotics, the kinds of things used in life-sustaining medicines, are a storage and transport packaging challenge for pharmaceutical manufacturers. Because of a lack of secure vault facilities, particularly on the East Coast, Exel (Westerville, Ohio,, a third-party logistics provider, has established a specialized vault in Mechanicsburg, Pa., for handling narcotics.

Like a duck crossing a pond, everything on the surface seems quiet. It's what you can't see that's important. When agreeing to this interview, Scott Cubbler, v.p., Life Sciences Operations for Exel says, "Naturally, we don't want to draw a lot of attention to how narcotics are handled and shipped."

Entering this vault requires passing through four levels of security, each increasing in intensity. The final level of security is biometric scanning, something rarely seen in a distribution center.

"Within the vault," explains Cubbler, "we currently have 40,000 square feet of space with 600 pallet positions for storage. Because of our heightened level of security, our license from the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] allows us to work in a cage area around the vault where we can do things like order fulfillment and re-packaging for the customers."

The vault area is expandable and will increase to fit the needs of the customers, says Cubbler. "The whole area [distribution] of life sciences is expanding and people are just now discovering that we, as a third party, can offer secure packing and handling services."

Inventory control and security are the watchwords in this facility. An important part of this scenario is communications, says Cubbler. "When a customer requests an order, it has to be done with the DEA's electronic 222 form. We then tell the DEA what has been ordered and shipped, and we tell the customer. Every time a product moves in or out of the facility the DEA is notified."

The DEA monitors all regulated products coming into Exel's facility and any over or under shipments have to be explained. To help control the chain of custody, an elaborate vetting process is in place for the selection of carriers and for employees within the secure area.

"We select only long-term, trusted Exel employees to begin with," says Cubbler. "Then there are extensive background checks as well as random drug and alcohol screenings."

When filling orders, the narcotics don't get mixed with other products going to the same customer. "But because we are a 3PL handling similar products for many of the same end-clients, we are able to consolidate shipments and save on shipping costs."

Given the level of technology in today's security systems, Ben Franklin's notion of security, that "Two people can keep a secret, but only if one of them is dead," might no longer hold true—at least for secrets in a distribution center.

Material handling within caged area is monitored by extensive tracking and security.