West Virginia flooded with millions of painkillers amid surging overdose rates

From 2007 to 2012, more than 1,700 West Virginians fatally overdosed on hydrocodone and oxycodone. In the same time period, drug wholesalers poured 780 million of those pills into the state. The massive dissemination of these two medications amounted to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in the state, according to a Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation.

For the investigation, the Gazette-Mail obtained previously confidential drug shipping records from the West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office. The records were sent to the office by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Attorneys for the drug companies worked to keep the sales numbers under wraps in previous court actions initiated by the Gazette-Mail.

"These numbers will shake even the most cynical observer," said former state delegate Don Perdue (D), a retired pharmacist who recently finished his term. "Distributors have fed their greed on human frailties and to criminal effect. There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness."

McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., supplied more than half of the 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pain pills disseminated across the state. According to the investigation, these companies ignored rules to report suspicious orders for controlled substances in West Virginia to the state Board of Pharmacy. The Gazette-Mail cites a scenario in which a locally owned pharmacy in Wyoming County ordered 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore located eight blocks away.

In a recent letter released by McKesson and relayed by the Gazette-Mail, the company's General Counsel John Saia wrote, "The two roles that interface directly with the patient — the doctors who write the prescriptions and the pharmacists who fill them — are in a better position to identify and prevent the abuse and diversion of potentially addictive controlled substance."

According to CDC data analyzed by the Gazette-Mail, West Virginia contains the top four counties for fatal overdoses caused by pain pills in the nation: Boone, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming.

More articles on the opioid epidemic: 
CDC director says 'urgent action is needed' : 13 data points on the opioid epidemic 
5 strategies to prevent opioid-related adverse events 
Genetic opioid risk test not good science, experts say

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