538 has a good write up on the changing patterns of causes of death in the United States. There is one part I want to pull out:
Mortality due to substance abuse has increased in Appalachia by more than 1,000 percent since 1980….
The linked study has a great set of customizable maps. For substance abuse, it shows the southern most counties of West Virginia being one of the epicenters of substance abuse deaths in the country.
And now I want to focus on the specific from the West Virginia Gazette:
Rural and poor, Mingo County has the fourth-highest prescription opioid death rate of any county in the United States.
The trail also weaves through Wyoming County, where shipments of OxyContin have doubled, and the county’s overdose death rate leads the nation. One mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana received 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore just eight blocks away…
Cardinal Health saw its hydrocodone shipments to Logan County increase six-fold over three years. AmerisourceBergen’s oxycodone sales to Greenbrier County soared from 292,000 pills to 1.2 million pills a year. And McKesson saturated Mingo County with more hydrocodone pills in one year — 3.3 million — than it supplied over five other consecutive years combined…
At the height of pill shipments to West Virginia, there were other warning signs the prescription opioid epidemic was growing.
Drug wholesalers were shipping a declining number of oxycodone pills in 5 milligram doses — the drug’s lowest and most common strength — and more of the painkillers in stronger formulations….Between 2007 and 2012, the number of 30-milligram OxyContin tablets increased six-fold, the supply of 15-milligram pills tripled and 10-milligram oxycodone nearly doubled, the DEA records sent to Morrisey’s office show.
This is a complete system failure. There were good actors. It seems like WalMart from the story was doing a good job of actually telling abusers and addicts “no” as they were not filling high dosage prescriptions nor passing out an inordinate number of pills. But there are enough cracks in the system for unscrupulous prescribers, unscrupulous distributors who were solely responsible to pump up next quarters’ stock price, and usually small and locally owned pharamcies to pass a quasi-legal product out in droves without concern about how many people it was killing and how many lives it was disrupting and ruining.
I don’t know how to fix this problem. I just know it is a problem and it needs to be fixed.