Amid Opioid Crisis, Large Drug Companies Pushed 76 Billion Pain Pills Across U.S.

By Katelyn Newman, US News

The country’s largest drug companies flooded U.S. markets with 76 billion prescription pain pills amid the nation’s opioid epidemic from 2006 through 2012, according to a Washington Post analysis of a government database.

Examining recently released data from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System – which shows a pain pill’s route from manufacturer and distributor to a U.S. pharmacy – the Post found that the volume of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills tied to the companies increased by more than 50% during the seven-year period, from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. During the same time frame, nearly 100,000 people reportedly lost their lives to a prescripton opioid-related overdose.

Six companies – McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart – distributed 75% of the pills, according to the analysis, while three manufacturers – SpecGx, Actavis Pharma and Par Pharmaceutical – accounted for 88% of the supply.

Purdue Pharma – often blamed for sparking the opioid crisis with its release of OxyContin in the 1990s and marketing of the drug – was ranked fourth among the manufacturers, supplying about 3% of the market.

“Those 10 companies along with about a dozen others are now being sued in federal court in Cleveland by nearly 2,000 cities, towns and counties alleging that they conspired to flood the nation with opioids,” according to the Post. “The companies, in turn, have blamed the epidemic on overprescribing by doctors and pharmacies and on customers who abused the drugs. The companies say they were working to supply the needs of patients with legitimate prescriptions desperate for pain relief.”

The Post and HD Media won release of the pill data in connection with the lawsuits in Cleveland.

According to the analysis, the highest concentrations of pills per person per year were received in West Virginia, with 66.5; Kentucky, with 63.3; South Carolina, with 58; Tennessee, with 57.7; and Nevada, with 54.7.

The Post also says rural areas that received the highest number of pills per person per year included Norton, Virginia, with 306; Martinsville, Virginia, with 242; Mingo County, West Virginia, with 203; and Perry County, Kentucky, with 175.

Newman, K. (2019). Amid opioid crisis, large drug companies pushed 76 billion pain pills across U.S. US News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2019-07-17/drug-companies-pushed-76-billion-opioid-pills-across-us-from-2006-through-2012

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