HUNTINGTON — In 2013 and 2014, more than 250 million prescription pain pills were sent to West Virginia by drug firms, pushing the total to over 1.1 billion pills over a nine-year period.
That equates to about 68 pills per state resident per year, during a time when the state’s citizens battled a growing opioid epidemic plaguing local communities.
Federal data on prescription pain pills shipped to the Mountain State from 2006-12 was released in 2019 after a year-long court battle headed by HD Media and The Washington Post. The two additional years of information was recently released after an order was made by Cleveland-based U.S. District Court Judge Dan A. Polster.
The 2006-12 data indicated the shipment of opioids had increased from 2006 to 2009 before starting to decrease in 2010. The new data indicate the number of pills being shipped to the area did not change significantly in 2013 and 2014.
The raw Automated Reports and Consolidated Ordering System (ARCOS) is a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database that compiles transactions made by drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies. It had been turned over to plaintiff attorneys in more than 2,500 lawsuits filed by local governments seeking compensation from drug manufacturers and distributors for the opioid crisis, accusing them of fueling the drug epidemic in local communities.
Cabell County and Huntington were among the first to file lawsuits, and their cases are expected to go to trial in West Virginia sometime this year.
Just six companies distributed 76% of the pills across the country during the nine-year time frame: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart. The top distributors in West Virginia were Cardinal Heath, 261 million pills; McKesson Corp., 172.8 million; AmerisourceBergen, 169 million; Rite Aid, 119.776 million; and Walmart, 86.7 million.
West Virginia has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the country. Its opioid overdose death rate per 100,000 citizens jumped from 16.1 in 2006 to 27.1 in 2012. It was at its highest in 2011, at 31.5. By 2017, after the number of pills shipped to the state drastically decreased and heroin usage increased, it had jumped to 49.6, but officials believe it has started to decline. Statistics for 2018 have not been released.
Cabell County received 15,856,180 pills in those two years, totaling 81 million from 2006 to 2014, or 94 pills per person per year. Cabell County recorded nearly 24 overdose deaths per 100,000 citizens in 2006 and 26 in 2012 before it increased to 49 in 2013. The number skyrocketed to nearly 158 in 2017. Recent statistics indicate those numbers could be decreasing now, The Associated Press previously reported.
Kanawha County received nearly 33 million pills during the two-year time frame, totaling 123 million from 2006 to 2014 — about 71 per person per year. That county’s fatal overdose rate average jumped from 34 in the 2008-12 period to an average of 67 from 2013-17.
Wayne County received about 3.5 million pills over 2013-14, for a total of 17 million from 2006 to 2014, enough for 45 pills per person per year. Wayne County saw its average overdose rate per 100,000 population triple from 34 between 2008 and 2012 to 105 between 2013 and 2017.
Putnam County received an additional 6.6 million, or 26 million overall, equating to 52 pills per person per year. Putnam County’s average opioid overdose death rate per 100,000 was 44 between 2013 and 2017, a jump from 23 between 2008 and 2012.
In Kentucky, about 551 million additional pills were shipped statewide in the two years. Boyd County received about 8.4 million of those, totaling 45 million over the nine-year period, or about 102 pills per person per year.
Ohio received about 1 billion pills statewide in 2013-14, totaling 4.4 billion over the nine years. Lawrence County received 6.2 million of those, totaling about 32 million in the nine years, or about 57 pills per person per year.
The Washington Post has compiled all this data into interactive charts for the public’s review, which can be found on its website.