Almost 10 million prescription pain pills were supplied to Carter County from 2006 to 2012, enough for 49 pills per person per year, according to a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The DEA database tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States — from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city.
According to the database: 3,870,480 of the pills in Carter County were distributed by McKesson Corporation and 3,736,000 were manufactured by SpecGx LLC. Additionally, Carter Family Pharmacy in Olive Hill received the highest number of pills: 2,027,270 pills.
8,013,120 prescription pain pills were supplied to Rowan County, 36,819,430 pills to Boyd County and 1,895,240 pills to Elliot County.
Nearly 2 billion prescription pain pills were supplied throughout Kentucky during this time. Paintsville pharmacy Value-Med Inc received the highest number of pills.
An analysis by The Washington Post found six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills during the 2006-2012 period: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS, and Walmart. Three companies manufactured 88 percent of the opioids: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals.
The database was made public following a year-long legal battle waged by The Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia.
The 10 biggest opioid prescription distributors along with about a dozen others are 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.
In turn, the companies 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.
Plaintiffs have long accused drug manufacturers and wholesalers of fueling the opioid epidemic by producing and distributing billions of pain pills while making billions of dollars. The companies have paid more than $1 billion in fines to the Justice Department and Food and Drug Administration over opioid-related issues, and hundreds of millions more to settle state lawsuitsThe Washington Post
Additional analysis of the database by The Post included three major findings:
- America’s largest drug companies distributed 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills across the country between 2006 and 2012 as the nation’s deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control. Just six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills during this period.
- The volume of the pills handled by the companies climbed as the epidemic surged, increasing 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. The states that received the highest concentrations of pills per person per year were: West Virginia, Kentucky, and South Carolina.
- Opioid death rates soared in the communities that were flooded with pain pills. The national death rate from opioids 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.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 1,160 reported opioid-involved deaths in Kentucky—a rate of 27.9 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2017. The average national rate in 2017 was 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.
From 1999-2015, prescription opioids were the underlying cause of drug overdose deaths. the Institute cites. By 2017, the main contributor of opioid-involved deaths shifted to synthetic opioids other than methadone, mainly fentanyl.
The Post has been investigating the opioid epidemic across the county since 2016 and their coverage can be found here.