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Database shows Kentucky ranked second for most legal pain pills per person between 2006 and 2012


Between 2006 and 2012, drug companies distributed 76 billion doses of prescription pain medicine, “enough pills to supply every adult and child in the country with 36 each year,” Scott Higham, Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich reported in The Washington Post.

And rural counties, especially in Appalachia, received some of the highest shares of pain pills per person.

That’s according to a Drug Enforcement Administration database, made public for the first time by the Post and the daily newspapers in Charleston and Huntington, W.Va. The database tracks the path of every DEA-regulated pain medication in the U.S. It includes local data that shows the counties that received the most pills, fueling the prescription-opioid epidemic, resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths in that time period.

The Post reports that “rural areas were hit particularly hard.” The data showed Kentucky ranked second in pills per person per year, at 63.3, topped only by West Virginia at 66.5, which had the highest opioid death rate during the period. South Carolina, mainly due to high rates along its Atlantic coast, was third at 58; Tennessee was fourth at 57.7, and Nevada was fifth at 54.7.

A 2016 report from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center found that prescription opioids contributed to the overdose deaths of 2,481 Kentuckians between 2006 and 2012.

The Post’s interactive map shows that several counties in Eastern Kentucky had the highest distribution rates in the state: Whitley at 187, Perry at 175, Floyd at 168, Bell at 156, Johnson at 152, Pike at 146, Clay at 134 and Lee at 133.

Clinton County, at 147, stands out in the south-central part of the state, as do McCracken, at 107, and Crittenden, at 119, both in Western Kentucky.

Nearly half of the pills were distributed by three companies: McKesson, Walgreens and Cardinal Health. The top manufacturer was Mallinckrodt’s SpecGx, with nearly 38 percent of the market.

Because the database is partly comprised of data that drug makers gave the DEA, it shows what they knew about the number of pills they were shipping at the epidemic’s peak, the Post points out.

Drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies must log and report each narcotic transaction, and are supposed to report suspiciously large or frequent orders to the DEA and withhold such shipments.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 communities, counties and Indian tribes have alleged in federal lawsuits that the drug companies filled suspicious orders and did not report them in order to maximize profits.

The lawsuits were consolidated into one case, which is now larger in scope than the lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers in the 1980s, the Post reports.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Democratic nominee for governor, has filed nine lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, including ones against the top three distributors and top manufacturer. He says that is more than any other attorney general.

In a debate Wednesday, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin asked him, “How much money have we gotten” from the suits. “We will,” Beshear replied. “You blow a lot of smoke,” Bevin retorted.

The database was released Monday after the Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail, won a years-long legal battle to access documents and data from the ongoing litigation.

The West Virginia newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on drug distribution, using other data. The Post reports that the DEA, the Justice Department and drug companies all fought hard against release of the data. The companies said it would reveal information that could give competitors an unfair advantage, and Justice said the data could compromise DEA investigations.

From Kentucky Health News


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One Comment

  1. Robert shanks says:

    The big pill makers are McConnell largest contributor to his campaign fund.

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