As overdoses soared in the US, nearly 35 billion opioids — half of distributed pills — handled by 15 percent of pharmacies
2019-08-12 from washingtonpost.com
By the time Clinton County coroner Steve Talbott arrived at the scene of an overdose in southern Kentucky, the bottles of prescription pain pills usually had vanished. Friends and relatives of the dead rarely had answers to Talbott’s questions: What kind of pills did they take and where did they come from?
A toxicology report often answered the first question. It was the second one that typically eluded Talbott. As overdose deaths soared, Talbott repeatedly called the state police, hoping they could identify the source of opioids poisoning his community, nestled in the foothills along the Tennessee border.
Now, with the release and analysis of a federal database tracking every pain pill sold in the United States at the height of the opioid crisis, one Clinton County pharmacy has come into sharp focus: Shearer Drug, located less than two miles from the funeral home that Talbott runs in Albany, Ky. The family-run pharmacy purchased nearly 6.8 million pills that contained hydrocodone and oxycodone from 2006 through 2012 — enough to give 96 pills each year to every person in the county of roughly 10,000 residents.
During this period, Shearer Drug procured more opioid pills on a per capita basis per county than any other retail pharmacy in the United States, according to The Post’s analysis of the federal database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2012 alone, Shearer Drug bought over 1.1 million pain pills — a 55 percent increase from 2006.
The pharmacies and the opioids they purchased are revealed in the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS, which tracks every pain pill distributed nationwide. The Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, waged a year-long legal battle for access to the database, which the government and the drug industry had sought to keep secret. A judge recently ordered the release of seven years of database records, which expose the paths of more than 70 billion pain pills distributed to about 83,000 pharmacies.
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