A Congressional committee wants to know how two drug wholesalers could send 20.8 million prescription opioids over a 10-year period to two West Virginia pharmacies in a town of just 2,900 people without raising red flags with authorities. It is yet another example of how the prescription drug crisis has grown into a national public health emergency.
From 2006 to 2016, drug wholesalers Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith sent a total of 10.2 million hydrocodone pills and 10.6 million oxycodone pills to Tug Valley Pharmacy and Hurley Drug in the tiny town of Williamson in Mingo County, located in southern West Virginia. In a single year during that time, Miami-Luken’s shipments to Tug Valley Pharmacy increased threefold.
From 2005 to 2011, the company also shipped 5.7 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to nearby Kermit, a town of just 400 people. That translates to 5,624 pills for every man, woman and child in Kermit during that six-year period.
“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” said Greg Walden and Frank Pallone Jr., members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a joint statement.
The millions of opioids being shipped into small towns in West Virginia has had a detrimental effect on the state as whole. West Virginia had the highest rate of drug overdoses in the country, with more than 880 overdose fatalities reported in 2016 alone.
Four Alabama Cities Among Top 15 with Highest Abuse
Surprisingly, no communities in West Virginia were listed among the top 15 cities with the highest rate of opioid abuse in the U.S., according to a list compiled by Castlight Health. The health care information company used anonymous data on medical and pharmacy claims to determine which parts of the U.S. were hardest hit by the opioid crisis.
According to Castlight Health, Wilmington, North Carolina, had the highest rate of opioid abuse, where more than a half of the opioid prescriptions filled – 54 percent – are abused. Anniston, Alabama, ranked second highest on the list, and is one of four Alabama cities that made the top 15. The other cities in the state that made the list include Gadsden, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa.
Jacksonville, North Carolina, home of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, ranked No. 12 on the list. Veterans are 10 times more likely than civilians to abuse opioids, according to Veterans Affairs. One reason is because Veterans Affairs admits it over-prescribes painkillers for soldiers with injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The opioid epidemic is taking too many lives, killing more than 183,000 in the U.S. since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2015 alone, 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses – more than guns, car crashes and HIV/AIDS ever killed in one year in the U.S.
The Rising Costs of Opioid Crisis
Opioids are also costing our country a fortune. According to the CDC, prescription painkillers generate costs of $78.5 billion annually for health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.
The opioid epidemic is fueled by drug companies who have flooded the health care system with these highly addictive painkillers. They misled the public into believing these medications were safe, and pushed doctors into prescribing them for off-label uses in an attempt to boost profits. Drug distributors and pharmacies ignored suspicious behavior such as high-volume shipments to individual pharmacies or large spikes in opioid sales in pharmacies – as was the case in West Virginia. It’s no surprise America is the world’s leader in opioid prescriptions.
But Americans are beginning to fight back.
In December 2017, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated dozens of opioid lawsuits filed by local governments across the country blaming drug companies, distributors and pharmacies for fueling the national opioid epidemic. The MDL is centralized in the Northern District Court of Ohio. Consumers are also filing lawsuits against Big Pharma seeking justice for themselves or loved ones who have become victims of this tragic public health crisis.
Beasley Allen is representing multiple local governments in Alabama, and the State of Alabama, against both manufacturers and distributors of opioids to hold them responsible for the increased costs related to the opioid crisis. In addition to lawsuits filed on behalf of governments and organizations harmed financially by the opioid crisis, Beasley Allen is working to represent individuals and families that have suffered personal injuries and deaths because of the opioid epidemic.