New data released last week show that drug companies flooded U.S. pharmacies with a tidal wave of opioid pills during a time when opioid deaths were already high. From 2006-2012, 76 billion pills were put on the market and into the hands of people. During that time, annual opioid deaths increased from around 18,000 per year to more than 23,000 per year.
Stanford University professor and opioid researcher Keith Humphreys said the numbers are “stunning,” and noted that places that received the most pills are also the places that had the most overdoses.
“It really looks like wherever you spread the most gas, you get the most fires,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Nevada all received more than 50 pills for every man, woman and child each year. Several areas in the Appalachian region were shipped an average of well over 100 pills per person per year.
“I don’t think America truly understands the scope and depth, the level of penetration these pills had in their communities,” says Paul Farrell, one of three attorneys suing the pharmaceutical industry. That trial is scheduled to begin in October.
This new information offers even more evidence that opioid addiction is not an individual problem; it is a systemic one. Drug companies, pharmacies and doctors have profited from the sale of these drugs that are destroying families and, in some places, entire communities.
Lemonada will be discussing the epidemic of opiates in America and how families respond this September on the new podcast, Last Day.