76 billion opioid pills: Newly released federal data unmasks the epidemic

Summary and Analysis

A stunning revelation that exposes the magnitude of the pharmaceutical industry abuse that helped kick off the opioid crisis. In a short six year period, enough opioids were pushed to give every man, woman and child in the country more than 200 pills each. 

The article paints a picture of massive abuse by a handful of companies and a shocking failure by regulatory agencies to identify the problem earlier. The over-production and over-distribution of opioids not only didn't stop as the crisis developed, it accelerated. The $1 billion companies have paid in fines to the Justice Department and Food and Drug Administration and "hundreds of millions more to settle state lawsuits" pales in comparison to the revenue generated by the out-of-control production, distribution and prescription of opioids.

The article paints a picture of an industry that operated without regard to consequences which is, unfortunately, not a first offense for the pharmaceutical industry. Rather, it fits in with a history and pattern of practice -- a pattern communities would be wise to take into account when presented with Big Pharma "solutions" to the opioid crisis.  

Excerpted from The Washington Post


America’s largest drug companies saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012 as the nation’s deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control, according to previously undisclosed company data released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history.

The information comes from a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States — from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city. The data provides an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which has resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths from 2006 through 2012.

Just six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills during this period: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart, according to an analysis of the database by The Washington Post. Three companies manufactured 88 percent of the opioids: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; ­Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals.