20.8 million prescription painkillers were shipped to a town of 3,000 over ten years

Williamson, Virginia is a town that exemplifies the extent to which the opioid crisis is partially fueled by irresponsible pharmaceutical corporations.

Feb 9, 2018 - Rob Hoffman

Photo by Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post/ Getty Images

Photo by Ricky Carioti/ The Washington Post/ Getty Images

In the last ten years, 20.8 million prescription painkillers have been shipped to the small, coal mining town of Williamson, West Virginia. With roughly 3,000 people living in the town, this amounts to more than 6,500 pills for every person in the Williamson.

This information was discovered by the congressional House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee is currently in the midst of an investigation into the opioid crisis, which has quickly become the most deadly drug scourge in American history.

The House committee recently confronted two of the drug companies responsible for the shipments, H.D. Smith and Miami-Luken, in a letter demanding answers about the excessive drug shipments. Most of these medications were brand-name versions of hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Miami-Luken alone sold nearly six-and-a-half million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to one pharmacy in Williamson in the seven years between 2008 and 2015. Between 2008 and 2009, despite virtually no change in Williamson’s population, Miami-Luken tripled the number of painkillers they shipped to the small city. In 2008, Miami-Luken also shipped enough prescription painkillers into Kermit, an even smaller town in the same county as Williamson, to supply 5,624 pills for every person in the town.

According to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 10.6 million oxycodone pills and 10.2 million hydrocodone pills were shipped to two pharmacies in Williamson—Tug Valley Pharmacy and Hurley Drug—in the ten years between 2006 and 2016 totaling 20.8 million prescription painkillers. These two pharmacies are only a few blocks away from each other.

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WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 25: Committee chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) questions witnesses during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing concerning federal efforts to combat the opioid crisis, October 25, 2017, in Washington, DC. Lawmakers on the committee threatened to subpoena information from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) regarding their delayed responses about drug distributors that poured in millions of pain pills into West Virginia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” said ranking members of the committee in a joint statement.

Molecularly, oxycodone is extremely similar to heroin. The most popular brand name version of oxycodone is Oxycontin, a drug manufactured and distributed by Purdue Pharma. Purdue is currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by New York City, Philadelphia, and the state of Delaware, for its misleading marketing tactics that helped propagate the opioid crisis. Vicodin and Lortab are two popular brand names of hydrocodone, which is a similarly dangerous opioid medication.

A 2012 study found that the United States is responsible for manufacturing 83% of the world’s total supply of oxycodone. The study also found the United States to be the highest consumer of hydrocodone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone of any country in the world. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, the United States also consumed roughly 80% of the world’s total oxycodone in 2013.

According to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, at least 818 people died of a drug overdose in West Virginia in 2016. This amounts to more than two drug overdose deaths per day in the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of drug overdose deaths in West Virginia was 52 per 100,000 people in 2016, the highest rate of any state for that year.

As the House committee continues its investigation into Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith’s contributions to this unprecedented crisis, the two companies will be required to fulfill the House committee’s request for information by February 9th.

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