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Database shows more than 850 million opioids shipped to LOU Community over 6-year period

Editors at The Washington Post last month alerted journalists and community newspapers of an online database their reporters created that details the extent of prescription opioid pills throughout the United States, broken down by state and county.

The data shows Lafayette County was about average among North Mississippi counties in the distribution of pain killers for the years of 2006 through 2012, the time frame for the study.

During those years (the latest for which data is available) Mississippi pharmacies were supplied with 854.5 million opioids. Of that number, some 7.6 million came to Lafayette County – enough to supply every single person in the county with 23 pills a year during the data time period.

Statewide, Don Waldron’s Mr. Discount in Meridian shipped 10.3 million pills during the time frame, according to the research. Rounding out the top five pharmacies receiving pills in the state were two stores in Corinth, one in Brandon and another in Gulfport. The highest concentration of pills across the state per person, per year, was in Marion County (95.5) and Forrest County (86.9) The lowest is in Carroll County (4.5) and Smith County (14).

In Lafayette County, the pharmacy receiving the most opioids was Walgreens of Oxford (1.5 million pills) followed by G&M Pharmacy (1.4 million), Chaney’s Pharmacy (1.2 million), Kroger (713,000) and Wal-Mart Pharmacy (705,000).

All of the data in the study was taken from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders Systems, known as ARCOS. Reporters sued to gain access to the information and a federal judge ordered its release in July.

Reporters further relied on U.S. Census data to determine the number of pills per person, per year, the total number of opioids distributed represented in each county. 

The online article has the following from the reporters explaining their motivation for conducting the research and publishing their findings:

“These records provide an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths during the seven-year time frame ending in 2012. 

“The Washington Post sifted through nearly 380 million transactions from 2006 through 2012 that are detailed in the DEA’s database and analyzed shipments of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, which account for three-quarters of the total opioid pill shipments to pharmacies. The Post is making this data available at the county and state levels in order to help the public understand the impact of years of prescription pill shipments on their communities.

“A county-level analysis of the cumulative data shows where the most oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed across the country over that time: more than 76 billion in all.”

In neighboring counties, Panola County pharmacies received 8.4 million pills, or enough for 23 per person, per year. Fred’s Pharmacy in Batesville was the largest recipient with 1.3 million pills.

In Yalobusha County, 1.6 million pills (17 per person) were shipped, the most to Fred’s Pharmacy in Water Valley (801,600). Marshall County stores received 2.8 million opioids (10 per person) with Wal-Mart Pharmacy (650,000) topping the list.

Pontotoc pharmacies were shipped 6.8 million pills, enough for 32 per person in the county for the seven year period. There, Montgomery Drugs received 2.5 million pills (33 a person), followed by Fred’s and Wal-Mart.

In Union County, drugstores received shipments of 7.8 million opioids (41 a person) with Fred’s Pharmacy the leader at 1.95 million pills.

In Lee County, 26.5 million pills were legally shipped, enough for 46 per person each year. There, Walgreen’s Pharmacy received 2.8 million pills, the most in the county.

The next data release is expected to show fewer opioids shipped to Mississippi in the years after 2012 after the nationwide effort to have doctors issue fewer prescriptions and pharmacies report suspected abusers.

Additional data and comparisons are available on the Washington Post’s website. Registration is required for viewing, but there is no paywall.

By Jeremy Weldon, Managing Editor, The Panolian