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Pain pills in Pickens: The Numbers

Database tracks opioid use; Pickens above state average  

opioid

According to landmark data analysis recently released by The Washington Post, over 10.3 million opioid pills were legally sold in Pickens County as the deadly opioid epidemic surged between the years of 2006 and 2012.  

The data is part of a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration that was made public after a year-long legal battle the media outlet had with the DEA and the U.S. Justice Department. The DEA was forced to release the database, which tracks every pain pill manufactured in the United States. 

The Washington Post’s victory in court and ensuing research and data analysis of the more than 380 million transactions showed that the volume of pain pills handled in the U.S. increased a staggering 51

percent from 8.4 billion a year in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. For the first time in history, the public can access county-level details about manufacturing, distribution, and sale of pain pills to retail/chain pharmacies and practitioners during that time, when 100,000 people died as a result of opioid use.

 

The data relates only to oxycodone and hydrocodone as those account for over 75 percent of opioid shipments to pharmacies and practitioners, and were most often sold on the black market. In all, data shows that over 76 billion opioid pills were distributed in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012. 

In Georgia, there were 2.27 billion prescription pain pills shipped during those years. Georgia averaged 39 pain pills per person per year between 2006 and 2012, with a national average of 36 pills per person. Some counties in the U.S. received shipments of pain pills enough for 200 pills per person per year – Charleston County in South Carolina had the highest concentration in the country of 248.3 pills per person. West Virginia was the state with the highest concentration of pills per person at 66.5 and also had the highest death rate during that time. 

The database shows that Pickens County was higher than the national and state averages. During that time, 10.34 million prescription pain pills - or enough for 50.5 per person for the year – were shipped to pharmacies or practitioners here.

Other Pickens data made public shows that between 2006 and 2012:

Top pharmacies in order of quantity of opioids received – Canton Northside (2.72 million pills); Jasper Drug Store (1.92 million); CVS Pharmacy (1.32 million); Walgreen Co. (1.23 million); Kroger (1.05 million); Eckerd Corporation (791,940); Ingles Market (571,100); Jasper Drug Store at Foothills/Marble Hill (261,930); Walmart Pharmacy (234,680). 

Top Five Distributors - McKesson Corporation (3.94 million pills); Walgreen Co. (1.21 million); AmerisourceBergen Drug (990,900); CVS (841,500); and Kroger (791,750).

Top Five Manufacturers - Actavis Pharma, Inc. (4.2 million pills); Par Pharmaceutical (3 million); SpecGx LLC (2.54 million); Amneal Pharmaceuticals LLC (228,400); Purdue Pharma LP (192,860). 

 The Washington Post’s analysis shows that north and southeast Georgia counties have higher concentrations of opioid pain pills per person than central and southwest Georgia. Data for counties that surround Pickens show that Gilmer to the north had a higher concentration of pills, at 55.8 per person per year or 11 million total, while Cherokee to the south had a much lower concentration at 29.4 pills per person, or 42.3 million in total. Other surrounding counties showed Dawson with 53.8 pills a person per year; Gordon, 42.8 pills; Fannin, 67, Bartow, 48.9; Lumpkin, 23.8; Union, 46.5; and Fulton with a much lower rate of 21 pills per person. 

Stephens County in northeast Georgia had the highest concentration in the state at 118.8 pills per person. 

Jasper Drug Store Pharmacist and owner Jack Dunn said there is a trend he is seeing currently where doctors try to reduce opioid use in their patients. 

“Most doctors are really trying to get people off of those,” Dunn said. “They will wean them down and try to encourage other alternatives like CBD or Naltrexone, or if they do prescribe them for very small doses. Honestly, most regular doctors don’t want to write prescriptions for [opioids], it was a lot of the pain clinics that were prescribing them.” 

Dunn said he and other local pharmacists have patient consults and suggest treatment outside of pain pills such as  compounding, natural remedies, and others. He also tries to mitigate opioid abuse by keeping an eye out for doctor shopping or suspicious customers. If Dunn has a patient with pain pill prescriptions from multiple doctors he will contact the doctor to alert them, “and we don’t fill prescriptions for people out of town because we don’t know what they doing,” he said. “Just the other day we had someone come in from Newnan for a prescription for OxyContin and I told him we wouldn’t be able to fill it. We’re also only allotted a certain amount of prescriptions and we need to be able to serve our customers here.” 

Other startling takeaways from The Washington Post’s database analysis show that nationwide between 2006 and 2012: 

•Six companies distributed 75 percent of the oxycodone and hydrocodone. Those companies were: McKesson Corp. (18.4 percent market share), Walgreens (16.5 percent), Cardinal Health (14 percent), AmerisourceBergen (11.7 percent), CVS (7.7 percent) and Walmart (6.9 percent). 

•Three companies manufactured 88 percent of opioids; SpecGx (37.7 percent of market share); ActavisPharma (34.5 percent); ParPharmaceutical (15.7 percent). 

•15 percent of pharmacies received 48 percent of pain pills.

•Opioid death rates were three times higher in communities that had the most number of pills distributed per person. 

•Internal documents from pharmaceutical companies show “the pressure within drug companies to sell opioids in the face of numerous red flags during the height of the epidemic.”

You can find all the data as well as interactive maps and numerous articles by visiting The Washington Post online.