Death rates from opioids soared in towns, cities and counties that were saturated with billions of prescription pain pills from 2006 through 2012, according to federal data and a previously undisclosed database of opioid shipments made public this week, the Washington Post reports. The highest per capita death rates from opioids during those years were in rural communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. In seven years, those communities also were flooded with a disproportionate share of the 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from some of the largest drug companies.
The national death rate from opioids was 4.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. The counties that had the most pills distributed per person experienced more than three times that rate on average. Thirteen of those counties had an opioid death rate more than eight times the national rate. Seven of them were in West Virginia. “What they did legally to my state is criminal,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA). “The companies, the distributors, were unconscionable. This was not a health plan. This was a targeted business plan. I cannot believe that we have not gone after them with criminal charges.” For the first time, the Post was able to show where prescription opioid pills were shipped county-by-county and compare that information with federal data that logs deaths caused by prescription opioids. A map of the deaths and shipments shows a virtual opioid belt of more than 90 counties stretching southwest from Webster County, W.Va., through southern Virginia, ending in Monroe County, Ky. This swath includes 18 of the top 20 counties ranked by per capita prescription opioid deaths nationwide and 12 of the top 20 counties for opioid pills distributed per capita. In that area from 2006 through 2012, death rates from opioid abuse were 4.5 times the national average.