Drug wholesalers shipped nearly 21 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to a West Virginia town of 2900 people over a ten-year period.
To break it down even further, that would hypothetically mean there were 717.2 highly addictive prescription painkillers for every man, woman, and child in Williamson, West Virginia, every year — or 1.9 pills per day. The Charleston, West Virginia Gazette-Mail reported that, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 10.2 million hydrocodone pills (typically known as Vicodin and Lortab) and 10.6 million oxycodone pills (typically known as OxyContin)were shipped to Williamson between 2006 and 2016.
In West Virginia, there were 35 deaths by opioid overdose for every 100,000 people between 1999 and 2015 according to a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. To put that in perspective, the national average is only 10 for every 100,000. While the term “opioid” is broad, data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that between 2012 and 2014, approximately 30 percent of addiction cases in West Virginia were attributed to opioid painkillers — more than even heroin or alcohol. In 2016 alone, at least 880 people in West Virginia fatally overdosed, according to the Gazette-Mail.
The drug wholesalers chiefly responsible for the shipments — Miami-Luken out of Springboro, Ohio and H.D. Smith out of Springfield, Illinois — sent alarming numbers of the addictive painkillers to small-town pharmacies in West Virginia as the opioid crisis continued to worsen. In January of last year, H.D. Smith paid a $3.5 million settlement in response to allegations of dumping large amounts of prescription painkillers on small West Virginia towns. In 2016, Miami-Luken paid a $2.5 million settlement in relation to a pill-dumping lawsuit filed by the West Virginia Attorney General’s office.
The Gazette-Mail reported that Miami-Luken shipped 16,800 oxycodone pills to a Beckley, West Virginia pharmacy over a mere five days in 2015. Beckley’s population was 16,972 in 2016. In 2008, H.D. Smith shipped 1.1 million hydrocodone pills to a small pharmacy in a town of just 1,800 people, amounting to roughly 3,000 pills per day.
“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” committee chair Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) said in a joint statement.
Both Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith have been given a deadline of February 9 to turn over documents to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as answers questions about any steps the companies took to stop the mass shipments of addictive painkillers to the small West Virginia towns flooded with hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.