Opioid Epidemic Revealed: 76 Billion Pills, 130 Deaths a Day

close up of a group of white tablets with an out of focus prescription bottle in the background

Two years ago, opioids accounted for two-thirds of the 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States. More than 130 people died from opioid abuse each day, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.

Thirty-six percent of opioid deaths involved prescription drugs like buprenorphine, codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.

While more than 100,000 Americans died from an opioid painkiller overdose, manufacturers were busy increasing distribution by over 50 percent, pumping an additional 8.4 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into commercial pharmacies. Newly released federal data analyzing the nation’s peak addiction crisis from 2006 to 2012 revealed that a total of 76 billion pills were distributed during this time period.

The distribution data is a key element of more than 2,000 lawsuits filed by state, local, and tribal governments looking to hold drug companies accountable for a largely preventable crisis that has spiraled out-of-control.

Drugmakers Role Put Into the Spotlight

“There’s been massive overprescribing, overconsumption of opioids in the United States,” explained Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Doctors have found themselves in the crossfire for years, but Dr. Kolodny told CNN the recently released data places the spotlight on the role distributors, retailers, and drugmakers have had in the crisis.

Roughly half the pills distributed from 2006 to 2012 were distributed by McKesson (14.1 billion), Walgreens (12.6 billion), and Cardinal Health (10.7 billion). More than two-thirds were manufactured by Actavis Pharma (26.5 billion) and SpecGx (28.9 billion). Purdue Pharma received a $635 million federal fine in 2007 for falsely claiming OxyContin was less addictive than other opioids, but their 2.5 billion pills accounted for just 3.3% of the overall market share.

Scott Higham, an investigator with the Washington Post, says the data confirms some of what we already knew – that West Virginia is the epicenter of the crisis. However, they were surprised to see the level of saturation in places like Nevada, Tennessee, South Carolina. “This is an epidemic that… knows no bounds, and it has just spread everywhere,” he explains.

Most tellingly, millions of drugs were being pumped into very small communities, where only two or three thousand people reside.

In rural Mingo County, West Virginia, pharmacies distributed 203 pills-per-person each year. Nearly every family has been affected by the opioid crisis in some way. They’ve lost high school friends, coworkers, neighbors, parents, and children.

Many doctors were misled by aggressive marketing tactics and false reassurance from pharmaceutical companies. Time and time again, drug-makers turned a blind eye to “suspicious activity” that led to the rise of pill mills and drug diversion. Now two dozen drug companies are faced with thousands of lawsuits, consolidated in the U.S. District Court of Cleveland.

First Opioid Trial Scheduled for October

While the nation grapples with questions of “how we got here,” the courts take on the monumental task of determining how far liability should extend and how similar suits should proceed. Attorneys from across the country are testing their legal strategies in Oklahoma, where a trial is expected to last for most of the summer. The central argument is that Teva Pharmaceuticals and Janssen violated the state’s public nuisance law by creating a substantial health harm in small communities. So far, the testimony has focused on manufacturers’ role in getting patients hooked on opioids through aggressive and often misleading marketing.

Purdue Pharma settled with the state for $270 million in March. Teva Pharmaceuticals settled for $85 million in June. Janssen continued on as the sole defendant, with parent company Johnson & Johnson losing a plea to drop the lawsuit this month. Larger federal litigation involving 1,900 lawsuits is scheduled for October.

Babies Born Addicted to Opioids

Part of the epidemic includes women who became addicted to opioids before becoming pregnant or while pregnant, and whose children, as a result, were born addicted. If your child was born addicted to prescription opioids, contact personal injury lawyer Bart Bernard for a free consultation.

No money is necessary upfront to pursue compensation through civil courts. You only pay for representation if you win your case and recover monetary damages. Call today to see if you qualify to file an opioid lawsuit.

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