Nearly 40 million opioids were prescribed in the Valley from 2006 to 2012 according to a recent review of millions of opioid transactions across the United States.
Prescription and illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have been factors in more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000, according to the CDC. From 2006 to 2012, annual opioid deaths rose from under 18,000 a year to more than 23,000. During that time, prescription drugs were cited as factors in just under half the deaths. Since then, overall opioid deaths in the U.S. have doubled. Last week the CDC reported that drug overdose deaths of all kinds probably fell last year for the first time in nearly three decades.
According to the database compiled by The Washington Post — which along with HD Media, the owner of newspapers in West Virginia, went to court to seek the information — there were 3 billion opioids prescribed statewide from 2006 to 2012. Locally, there were 24.2 million pills distributed in Northumberland County, 6.4 million in Snyder, 6 million in Union County and 3.1 million in Montour County.
There were a dozen locations that distributed at least 1 million pills in the Valley.
The number of prescriptions has reduced across Pennsylvania according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In 2006, there were 69.5 prescriptions for 100 people in Pennsylvania. The number increased annually until capping out at 83.8 prescriptions per 100 people. The total began to drop the following year and was at 57.7 prescriptions in 2017, a 30 percent drop from 2012.
Nearly every state has filed lawsuits against drug makers. Last month, Northumberland County joined a lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceutical, a Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin, and its affiliates. The federal lawsuit was filed on June 5 in the Middle District of Pennsylvania in a 673-page document. Nationally, more than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued Purdue.
Purdue knew in 1997 that drugs containing oxycodone, such as OxyContin, were widely abused. Still, company representatives marketed it as not being addictive and downplayed the potential for abuse, the suit states.
The lawsuits say that with the introduction of OxyContin, a time-released opioid, in 1995, Purdue created a new playbook to push the use of opioids for more patients and in higher doses.
Four companies — McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — each distributed more than 10% of the opioids sent to pharmacies. McKesson distributed more than 18% of the nation's opioids from 2006 to 2012 — the most of any company — but said it didn't push sales.
SpecGX LLC, an affiliate of Mallinckrodt, was the top provider in each of the four Valley counties, accounting for 23.9 of the 39.8 million. Mallinckrodt was the nation's top manufacturer of oxycodone and hydrocodone. Nationally, SpecGX LLC was also the top manufacturer with nearly 39 percent of pills — 29 billion total — flooding into the market.
Mallinckrodt “has for years been at the forefront of preventing prescription drug diversion and abuse, and has invested millions of dollars in a multipronged program to address opioid abuse" the company said in a statement following the release of the data.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.