Healthcare

Report: Drug Makers Shipped 780 Million Painkillers to Tiny West Virginia in 6 Years

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

This isn't a subject we ordinarily discuss here but I found this report to be numerically astonishing.

We all know this country has a problem with abuse of prescription painkillers, but this report from the Charleston Gazette-Mail dwarfs even my wildest assumptions about the distribution of pain killers.

According to the Gazette, drug companies shipped 780 million painkillers to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, almost 9 million of which were shipped to just one tiny town.

The trail of painkillers leads to West Virginia's southern coalfields, to places like Kermit, population 392. There, out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 9 million highly addictive — and potentially lethal — hydrocodone pills over two years to a single pharmacy in the Mingo County town. [...]

The trail also weaves through Wyoming County, where shipments of OxyContin have doubled, and the county's overdose death rate leads the nation. One mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana received 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore just eight blocks away. [...]

The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.

The Gazette-Mail's investigation uncovered a sprawling system for facilitating sales and abuse in which the biggest suppliers of painkillers routinely failed to report "suspicious orders." Meanwhile, as local sales and the corresponding death toll increased, executives at the likes of McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health collected massive performance bonuses.

Naturally, drug companies fought to keep this information out of public sight.

This is a sensitive subject for many reasons. Chronic pain is a legitimate affliction that many people suffer from, but for decades we've made it more difficult (and more lucrative) to treat that it needs to be.

Even professional athletes are now openly questioning our prohibitions against access to marijuana as they're asked to play on increasingly-short turnaround schedules that leave them in immense amounts of pain with few treatment options aside from prescription painkillers.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, you could say a handful of drug makers have a virtual monopoly on pain in America. But the Charleston Gazette-Mail's investigation exposes not just a system that distributes relief to people suffering from pain; it's a system that's designed to keep people hooked on painkillers over long periods of time well beyond their immediate needs.

You don't ship 9 million painkillers to a village of less than 400 people for legitimate treatment.

American painkiller manufactures have plans to take their products worldwide. We can add that to our exports alongside cigarettes and fake news.

  • muselet

    This is why Rachel Maddow is constantly exhorting her viewers to support their local newspapers.

    The New York Times or the Washington Post isn’t going to do a story like this; now that the Charleston Gazette-Mail has broken the story, the big papers may have a reporter parachute in for a couple of weeks, crib off the local reporters and leave, but that’s about it (to be fair, the LA Dog Trainer has spent months on the story of oxycodone and other prescription painkillers).

    The drug companies badly need to be dragged before Congress and/or prosecuted for their behavior. Won’t happen—The Free Market demands opioids for all, don’t’cha know—but it should.

    –alopecia

  • Aynwrong

    Illegal or not, this is where the attention of Congress ought to be focused. Not on Hillary’s God damned E-mails! This is where America’s addiction crisis is coming from. Not brown people crossing the southern border.

  • Dread_Pirate_Mathius

    Chronic pain is a legitimate affliction that many people suffer from, but for decades we’ve made it more difficult (and more lucrative) to treat that it needs to be.

    As someone who suffered a decade’s worth of occasionally debilitating back pain, let me say HELL YES.

    American painkiller manufactures have plans to take their products worldwide. We can add that to our exports alongside cigarettes

    Yes, but pot needs to be illegal because reasons.

    (disclaimer, though, like Bill Clinton, I may have tried Satan’s lettuce, I did not particularly enjoy the experience.)

    Of course, at the risk of sounding like a lefty-loonie nut, the real reason pot is illegal is because the big drug manufacturers can’t make a profit off it since almost anyone can grow it for themselves. In a free market, pot would cost basically nothing, and would devastate the market for prescription painkillers. Hell, it would probably be devastating for advil/tylenol/motrin, too. Can’t have that, now can we?

    • Aynwrong

      Well said.

      “At the risk of sounding like a lefty-loonie nut,” I couldn’t agree more and I’ll toss in the private prison industry as well. Something else that shouldn’t be able to survive in a free market either were it not for tax dollars and hypocritical whores who love to mumble out nonsense about “limited government.”