Distributors Delivered 20.8M Hydrocodone And Oxycodone Pills To WV Town Of 3,200
In the past ten years, nearly 21 million hydrocodone and oxycodone prescription painkillers were shipped to the small town of Williamson, West Virginia, which has less than 3,200 residents. That’s an average of 6,500 pills per person – and unfortunately, many of those pills made their way out of the area.
According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were delivered Williamson, and as the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported, the committee issued letters to two are drug distributors, Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith, inquiring why the companies oversupplied the tiny town with opioids.
Hydrocodone and oxycodone are synthetic opioids that are indicated for the treatment pain but are also highly-additive and dangerous if misused.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that nearly 900 people died of a drug overdose in 2016 in West Virginia, making it the #1 state in the nation for overdose deaths. The center also says that opioids, both of prescription and illicit nature, are the primary cause of these deaths.
Other towns were also oversupplied to an unbelievable extent. In fact, one wholesaler provided more than 5,600 pills for every single resident in the city of Kermit, WV.
Reps. Greg Walden, R-OR and Frank Pallone Jr., D-NJ issued the following joint statement:
“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia.”
The letters, dated January 26, contend that between 2006-2016, both drug distributors supplied large quantities of hydrocodone and oxycodone to just two pharmacies in Williamson, a town near the border of Kentucky.
During that period, the Tug Valley Pharmacy reportedly received over 10.2 million pills, and the Hurley Drug company received over 10.5 million pills, according to the DEA. The two pharmacies are only 0.2 miles apart.
In response, Williamson Mayor Charles Hatfield stated in an email that “my concern as Mayor is that NOW we are going to witness another round of bad practices and abuse of duties! Our regulators let us down, doctors forgot their Hippocratic oath, and the rest of the parties up-and-down the chain of supply were motivated by greed.”
The committee stated in a letter to Miami-Luken that the company supplied over half of the prescription painkillers delivered to the Tug Valley Pharmacy between 2008-2015.
Miami-Luken also was a major distributor to the now-closed Save-Rite Pharmacy in the town of Kermit, population just 400.
Indeed, the wholesaler shipped 5.7 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to Save-Rite and its branch Sav-Rite between 2005-2011, according to the committee. They also questioned about shipments to the Westside Pharmacy in Oceana, citing that a Virginia doctor, whose pain clinic was located two hours from the city, was sending his patients that that pharmacy for opioids.
In 2015, over 40% of oxycodone prescriptions filled by Westside Pharmacy were ordered from this Virginia doctor, and the following year, the doctor’s license was suspended by the Virginia Board of Medicine for reasons of “substantial danger to public health and safety.”
Also mentioned were suspicious shipments to Colony Drug in Beckley. In just five days in 2015, the wholesale sent 16,800 oxycodone pills to this pharmacy:
“In several instances, Colony Drug placed multiple orders for what appears to be excessive amounts of pills on consecutive days.”
At the time of this writing, Miami-Luken had declined to comment – and maybe that’s because there’s been trouble afoot.
In February 2016, the wholesaler agreed to settle a $2.5 million lawsuit led by West Virginia Atty. General Patrick Morrisey, under allegations that it had inundated the state with opioids.
In another letter, the committee claims that drug distributor H.D. Smith provided the pharmacies with close to five million pills between 2007-2008 alone:
“West Virginia court documents suggest that at one point, H.D. Smith provided the two pharmacies with 39,000 hydrocodone pills over a two-day period in October 2007.”
They also inquired about shipments of painkillers to Family Discount Pharmacy in Logan County, in which 3,000 pills of hydrocodone pills were distributed each day (1.1 million over the year) in 2008 to the pharmacy. The pharmacy resides in a town of just 1,800 people.
The panel also cited the distributor for spikes in opioid shipments to the aforementioned Sav-Rite and Westside Pharmacies.
Waldon and Pallone:
“The committee’s bipartisan investigation continues to identify systemic issues with the inordinate number of opioids distributed to small-town pharmacies. The volume appears to be far in excess of the number of opioids that a pharmacy in that local area would be expected to receive.”
H.D. Smith later responded in a statement, saying that the letter was under review:
“H.D. Smith works with its upstream manufacturing and downstream pharmacy partners to guard the integrity of the supply chain, and to improve patient outcomes.”
Similar to Miami-Luken, H.D. Smith also paid a $3.5 settlement in 2017 for oversupplying pills to West Virginia in 2017.
The panel gave both companies until February 9th to relinquish documents and answer questions about what steps the companies may have taken to stop the deluge of painkillers into West Virginia.
More About The Epidemic
Recently, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions announced a Drug Enforcement Administration crackdown on U.S. prescribers and pharmacies that are oversupplying opioids, whether legal or illicit.
A Senate subcommittee also recently reported that synthetic opioids were being easily purchases online from China and shipped into the U.S., as the USPS is unequipped to keep up with customs and the influx of drugs.
The most recent statistics from the CDC reveal that more than 42,000 in the U.S. died from an overdose in 2016 related to prescription or illicit opioids. Of those, 40% were related to prescription painkillers.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology