The data depicts a clear “opioid belt” comprised of more than 90 counties across West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.
Where the pills went, death followed.
This is clear to see in a side by side comparison of recently released data showing exactly where—and to what extent—76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed between 2006 and 2012, and CDC opioid death data from the same time period.
The DEA’s database tracked the “path of every single pain pill sold in the United States,” the Washington Post reported. The Post and HD Media (the publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia) were granted access to the database last Monday (July 15) after a year-long effort to make the data available, in the largest civil action in U.S. history.
The Post analyzed millions of transactions from 2006 to 2012, and made the data searchable by state or county. It found that 75% of the pain pills (oxycodone and hydrocodone) were distributed by just six companies in this time period—McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart.
The Post then compared this data alongside CDC opioid death data. This showed a clear correlation between the number of pain pills that were sent to a region and how many people died of opioid-related causes there.
The data, visualized in two separate maps, depicts a clear “opioid belt” comprised of more than 90 counties covering Webster County, West Virginia, southern Virginia, and Monroe County, Kentucky.
Rural communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia experienced the highest per capita opioid death rate during this time period.
As the Post reported, the national opioid death rate was 4.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. “But the counties that had the most pills distributed per person experienced more than three times that rate on average.”
Even more shocking was that “13 of those counties had an opioid death rate more than eight times the national rate… Seven of them were in West Virginia.”
“What [the drug companies] did legally to my state is criminal,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. “The companies, the distributors, were unconscionable. This was not a health plan. This was a targeted business plan. I cannot believe that we have not gone after them with criminal charges.”
So far Rochester Drug Cooperative, a drug distributor based in New York, has been the first and only to be hit with felony criminal charges for the illegal distribution of controlled substances.
Nearly 2,000 lawsuits against drug companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma, are pending in federal court. The lawsuits claim that the companies irresponsibly marketed and distributed powerful opioid drugs with little consideration for the risk of patients becoming addicted or dying.