Health

780 Million Painkiller Pills Sold In West Virginia

| by Michael Allen

A new report finds that drug wholesale companies shipped about 780 million prescription hydrocodone and oxycodone painkiller pills into West Virginia from 2007 to 2012.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that out-of-state drug wholesalers shipped in enough painkillers to provide every resident with 433 pills.

The newspaper researched the number of fatal drug overdoses by pain pills via the Centers for Disease Control, and found that Wyoming, McDowell, Boone and Mingo counties -- all in West Virginia -- led the nation as the top four.

Almost 9 million painkillers (hydrocodone) were sold through a single drug store in Kermit (Mingo County), which has a population of 392.

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A small pharmacy in Oceana (Wyoming County) took in 600 times as many oxycodone pills as a nearby Rite Aid chain drugstore.

"These numbers will shake even the most cynical observer," former Democratic state Delegate Don Perdue told the newspaper.

"Distributors have fed their greed on human frailties and to criminal effect," the retired pharmacist added. "There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness."

The Charleston Gazette-Mail obtained the sales numbers from records sent by the DEA to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

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But those numbers did not come easily. Drug wholesalers fought to keep the newspaper from obtaining the sales records in court.

The newspaper reports that McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug Co. ship more than 50 percent of pain pills across the U.S.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, these drug wholesalers did not report suspicious orders for controlled substances to West Virginia's Board of Pharmacy, which did not enforce the rules.

Instead, the state Board of Pharmacy reportedly gave perfect inspections to pharmacies in small towns that ordered far more pain pills than could possibly be used by residents for legitimate pain.

While painkiller deaths in West Virginia shot up by 67 percent from 2007 to 2012, the heads of the wholesale drug supplies raked in billions of dollars. The CEOs of the three major wholesalers took in salaries and other compensation over the past four years that topped $450 million.

Forbes reported in 2012 that McKesson's CEO, John H. Hammergren, was the highest paid CEO with $131.19 million.

Despite the massive shipments of addictive painkilling drugs, the wholesale companies blame the doctors for writing prescriptions for drug dealers and addicts.

"It starts with the doctor writing, the pharmacist filling and the wholesaler distributing. They're all three in bed together," Sam Suppa, a retired West Virginia pharmacist, stated. "The distributors knew what was going on. They just didn't care."

Sources: ForbesCharleston Gazette-Mail / Photo credit: Charles Williams/Flickr

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