More than 1.7 billion prescription pain pills were supplied to Alabama between 2006 and 2012; more than 49 million pills were shipped to Marshall County alone. That equals 77 pain pills per person in Marshall County.
Drug companies shipped more than 55 million pain pills to Etowah County; 75 pills per person. More than 24 million went to DeKalb County; 49 pills per person.
Those numbers come from information recently released by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS. The agency tracked every pain pill shipped in the U.S. for seven years, totaling 76 billion pills. The Washington Post obtained the numbers and created a county-by-county database to show where each pill ended up.
Marshall County’s rate of 77 pills per person was fifth highest in the state of Alabama.
Nationally, nearly 144,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 2006 and 2012, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data showed 1,275 people died in Alabama. An additional 211,000 people died in the five years since then, and 1,692 were in Alabama.
“The data from The Washington Post story is revealing,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said. “While it was already known that Alabama led the country in the number of opioid prescriptions per capita, the newspaper analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration data paints a clearer picture of the extent of the problem and the communities most affected by it. More than 1.7 billion prescription opioid pills blanketed the state over a period of just six years - much of them in north Alabama, including Marshall County. This flooding of opioids has resulted in widespread addiction and many deaths.”
The data also revealed which companies produced, manufactured and received the pills. Par Pharmaceutical manufactured more than 544 million pills that came to the state of Alabama. McKesson Corporation distributed more than 517,000,000 million.
Boaz Discount Drugs Inc. received 5.6 million pills – the most in Marshall County. Albertville Discount Pharmacy received 3.1 million. Alabama CVS Pharmacy, LLC, in Arab, and Bunch Pharmacy, in Guntersville, each received 2.7 million pills. Mill Street Pharmacy in Boaz rounded out the top five with 2.4 million pills received.
Physicians Apothecary, in Gadsden, led Etowah County with 5.8 million pills received. C and H Discount Drugs in Fort Payne received the most in DeKalb County with 4.2 million.
The largest received in Alabama was Senior Care Pharmacy, in Northport, with 10,290,310 pills.
The database from The Washington Post does not show how many pills were sold, only that they were shipped. It only tracked oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, which accounts for about three-fourths of the most common prescribed opioids.
In Alabama, Walker County received 140 pills per person, the most in the state. Marion County followed with 108.
Nationwide numbers, excluding counties that house Veterans Affairs distribution centers, peak in Mingo County, West Virginia. It received 203 pills per person.
President Donald Trump recently declared the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency. Before doing so, Marshall and the state’s leadership have worked to combat the crisis and increase awareness across Alabama.
“It took years to create this crisis and it will take years to recover from it,” Marshall said. “The good news is, we are beginning to see a shift in both the amount of opioids prescribed and in the awareness of opioid addiction. Additionally, recommendations of the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council have already been adopted, including outlawing the trafficking of dangerous illegal opioids and creating a better system of data collection of opioid prescriptions.
“Last year, my office filed suit against the opioid manufacturers and distributors to halt deceptive marketing practices that conceal the dangers of opioids, and to recoup damages that the State of Alabama has suffered from Corrections to Mental Health to Medicaid,” Marshall continued. “Four days after I filed Alabama’s lawsuit, Purdue Pharma announced it would stop promoting opioids to doctors and would cut its sales force in half. Progress is being made and we will continue our efforts.”
Two thousand counties across the country have joined in a lawsuit against drug companies, alleging they created a “public nuisance” by failing to stem the flow of drugs when it became clear they were being abused. The case will be heard in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in October.