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How 76 Billion Opioid Pills Flooded the Country

Written by Megan Hull

& Medically Reviewed by Joy Youell

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Last Updated - 8/6/2021

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Updated 08/06/2021

Under orders from a judge, DEA records reveal that 76 billion opioid pills were manufactured and distributed between 2006 and 2012, contributing to the opioid crisis.

Information about the opioid crisis was deepened as a database from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was unsealed, revealing the manufacture and distribution of 76 billion opioid pills between the years 2006 and 2012. Often, 2012 is considered the height of the opioid crisis, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting dispensation rates for opioids reaching 255 million, or 81.3 prescriptions for every 100 people.

The information was released as part of a massive civil lawsuit spearheaded by Judge Dan Aaron Polster of Ohio. The lawsuit represents over 400 federal suits brought from a variety of people and organizations who have been negatively impacted by opioid abuse. Arguments leveled against major pharmaceutical companies include accusations of malicious and aggressive marketing of pain pills, even when they knew of the high addiction potential. Distributors are also on the receiving end of these accusations, with plaintiffs making claims that they sold unreasonable amounts of pain medication to individuals.

The DEA report provides sobering insight into the measure of opioid distribution by state. Regions in the Appalachian mountains, including West Virginia, had as many as 300 opioid pain pills prescribed for every single person.

According to database analysis done by The Washington Post, the top three manufacturers of pain pills between 2006 and 2012 were:

  1. SpecGx, which manufactured 29 billion pain pills
  2. Actavis Pharma, which manufactured 26 billion pain pills
  3. Par Pharmaceutical, which manufactured 12 billion pain pills

The top three distributors of pain pills between 2006 and 2012 were:

  1. McKesson Corporation, which distributed 14 billion pain pills
  2. Walgreens, which distributed 13 billion pain pills
  3. Cardinal Health, which distributed 11 billion pain pills

These pills were manufactured legally and distributed legally. While the manufacturing and distribution may have been within technical legal guidelines, pain pills are frequently diverted or misused. This means that people other than the person for whom they are prescribed could be taking these pills. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains that in 2013 and 2014, an average of 10.7 million people misused pain pills, which amounts to 4.1% of the population. Their research further outlines the way in which these people accessed pain pills:

  • 50.5% obtained the pills from a family member or friend at no cost
  • 22.1% received the pills as a prescription from a single doctor
  • 4.4% stole the pills from a family member or friend
  • 4.8% illegally obtained the drugs from a dealer or unknown person
  • 3.1% received the pills from multiple doctors
  • 4.1% obtained the pills from other methods

Opioid addiction is a significant issue in the United States. Opioids include multiple drugs, such as hydrocodonefentanyl and oxycodone. These drugs are a powerful way to help people recovering from injury or surgery, as well as people who suffer from chronic pain.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory bodies are working on initiatives in a continued effort to decrease opioid abuse. Some of this work includes:

  • Decreased exposure and access
  • Addiction prevention
  • Treatment support, including naloxone
  • Developing alternative pain treatments
  • Enforcement and risk assessment

Opioid addiction is an issue for many people. It is vital that if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to opioids, you reach out for help. Medical and mental health support is available to help overcome addiction. Call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today for more information about treatment options for yourself or a loved one.

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