From 2006 to 2012, there were 47,677,589 prescription pain pills supplied to Whitley County or enough for 187 pills per person per year, according to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, which is also known as ARCOS.
The data from the database was recently released following a nearly year long court battled by the Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia. The government and drug industry had sought to keep the information secret.
“It is actually pretty shocking when you actually see the numbers,” noted Whitley County UNITE Coalition Chairwoman Amber Owens during the group’s quarterly meeting Monday afternoon. “Every resident in Whitley County would have had to have taken 187 pills per year to equal that number.”
She added that Whitley County was ranked about fifth in the nation for the number of these pills that were brought into the county during this time period.
This data only includes information on shipments of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills and not 10 other opioids that were shipped in much lower quantities, according to the Washington Post story.
Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. noted that Whitley County’s numbers might be slightly skewed because the largest pharmacy supplier listed for Whitley County in the database was Save-Rite Family Pharmacy in Corbin, which is actually located in Knox County.
Even with the numbers for that pharmacy removed, White noted there were still nearly 40 million pain pills shipped to Whitley County during that seven-year period.
White said that the information had been subject to a federal gag order, which Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned last week promoting the release of the information.
According to the ARCOS data, 1,901,662,933 prescription pain pills were supplied to Kentucky from 2006 to 2012.
The Washington Post reports that “rural areas were hit particularly hard.” The data showed Kentucky ranked second in pills per person per year, at 63.3, topped only by West Virginia at 66.5, which had the highest opioid death rate during the period. South Carolina, mainly due to high rates along its Atlantic coast, was third at 58; Tennessee was fourth at 57.7, and Nevada was fifth at 54.7.
A 2016 report from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center found that prescription opioids contributed to the overdose deaths of 2,481 Kentuckians between 2006 and 2012, the Kentucky Health News reported.
The Post’s interactive map shows that several counties in Eastern Kentucky had the highest distribution rates in the state: Whitley at 187, Perry at 175, Floyd at 168, Bell at 156, Johnson at 152, Pike at 146, Clay at 134 and Lee at 133. Clinton County, at 147, stands out in the south-central part of the state, as do McCracken, at 107, and Crittenden, at 119, both in Western Kentucky, Kentucky Health News reported.
The Whitley County Fiscal Court filed suit on Sept. 13, 2017, along with several other counties in U.S. District Court against Amerisourcebergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corporation for public nuisance and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. At the time, these were the three largest wholesale distributors of prescription opioids with a combined market share of 85 percent.
The lawsuit alleges that the three companies breached their duties under the law to investigate suspicious orders and halt them, which has largely contributed to an opioid epidemic across the state.
Between 2013 and the middle of 2017, more than 21 million doses of prescription opioids, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, tramadol and oxymorphone, were dispensed in Whitley County or more than 584 doses per person, according to information in the Sept. 20, 2017, News Journal story regarding the lawsuit.
White noted Monday that based upon information he has received as part of the federal lawsuit the county is involved with, the ARCOS data is just the beginning of the information, which will be coming out.
Also during Monday’s meeting, Owens noted that the Operation UNITE Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camp in Whitley County this year was the largest out of all five camps, which were held across the region. Over 260 children participated.
“They had church buses bringing kids in. I think all the kids had a really good time,” Owens said.
She added that several parents and guardians attended a UNITE informational meeting during the camp on vaping, e-cigarettes, and current drug trends. Information was also provided on the signs, symptoms and dangers posed by prescription drugs.
The next quarterly Whitley County UNITE Coalition meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28.