WATCH: Inside the West Virginia prescription painkiller epidemic

Over a six-year span, the state has been supplied with an astronomical amount of prescription drugs


Associated PressCharlie May
January 9, 2017 6:00PM (UTC)

This article was originally posted on December 19, 2016 from Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s leading newspaper has obtained previously confidential Drug Enforcement Administration records that put numbers on the state’s epidemic of overdoses.

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It shows wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills in just six years as 1,728 people fatally overdosed on these two painkillers.

That amounts to 433 pills for every man, woman and child in the state, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which published part two of its investigation Monday.

The records — which leading drug wholesalers had fought in court to keep secret — show the wholesalers shipped ever-higher doses of the pills — a telltale sign of growing addictions — even as the death toll climbed.

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A single pharmacy in the small town of Kermit received 9 million hydrocodone pills over a two-year span. The town has a population of 392. 

Wholesalers such as McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen profited billions, and hydrocodone and oxycodone overdose deaths within the state increased 67 percent between 2007 and 2012. 

Four counties in West Virginia lead the entire nation in overdose deaths caused by pain pills. 

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According to the second portion of the investigation by Charleston Gazette-Mail, wholesalers have systems that recognize orders appearing questionable. Those orders are supposed to be reported to the states’ pharmacy board. 

But, between 2001 and June of 2012, the board only received two reports from Cardinal Health. Over 7,200 reports have been faxed in since, largely due to a lawsuit against Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and a dozen other wholesalers filed to former Attorney General Darrell McGraw. 

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The state law, however, doesn’t require the pharmacy board to do anything about the reports.


Associated Press

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Charlie May

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay

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