Drug Makers Flooded US With 76 Billion Opioid Pills

The volume of pain pills sold in the US rose from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Drug companies flooded the United States with 76 billion prescription painkillers from 2006 to 2012, where towns and cities saturated with them experienced soaring death rates from opioids.

The Washington Post reported that the highest per capita death rates in the US from opioids during that period were in rural areas in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia, where communities there received a disproportionate share of the 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from some of the country’s biggest drug companies. Oxycodone is stronger than morphine.

According to The Washington Post, the national death rate from opioids was 4.6 deaths per 100,000 residents, but counties with the most pills distributed per person suffered a death rate of more than three times the national rate. Thirteen of those countries experienced an opioid death rate more than eight times the national average, seven of which were in West Virginia. 

“What they did legally to my state is criminal,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) was quoted saying.

“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.”

The Washington Post analysed previously secret statistics by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — which a judge released Monday in a civil suit in Cleveland by almost 2,000 cities, towns and counties against two dozen companies — that tracked every painkiller sold by manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city in the US. The data was compared with individual death records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The volume of pain pills sold by drug companies rose during the opioid epidemic from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. The prescription pill crisis, the first wave in the ongoing epidemic, reportedly hit rural areas especially hard in West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Nevada.

The second wave of the opioid epidemic occurred when pill addicts turned to heroin after supply of prescription pills dried up when the US federal government fined the biggest distributors and pharmacies between 2008 and 2015 hundreds of millions of dollars.

The third wave of the epidemic, said The Washington Post, was when Mexican drug cartels blended their heroin with fentanyl and drug dealers in the US began selling the dangerous synthetic opioid. Over 67,000 people in the US died from overdosing on fentanyl between 2013 and 2017. 

The Guardian reported that almost nine out of 10 of the pills were manufactured by subsidiaries of three global pharmaceutical companies — Mallinckrodt, Endo and Actavis (now named Allergan).

According to the UK news site, Mallinckrodt sold almost 29 billion opioids in the six years to 2012, comprising 38 per cent of the US market. Actavis was reportedly not far behind while Endo sold 11 billion opioid tablets. 

The US’ biggest drug distributor McKesson Corporation and five other companies — including pharmaceutical chain companies Walgreens, CVS and Walmart — were reportedly responsible for most of the deliveries of pain pills across the US.

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