In 2015, the state of West Virginia ranked first in the nation in per-capita opioid overdose deaths, according to CDC data. A new investigation by the Gazette-Mail reveals some harrowing background on how deaths like these may be facilitated. Over the 2007 to 2012 period, some 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were shipped by drug wholesalers into the state—which has an estimated population of just 1.84 million, per the Census Bureau. That roughly works out to a per-person—children included—average allotment of 70 pain pills per year. Over that six-year period, 1,728 residents fatally overdosed on one of the two. The top three prescription drug wholesalers shipped 423 million of those pills to West Virginia pharmacies, to their financial gain.
Take, for instance, McKesson Corp: It's not just No. 1 among wholesalers, but was No. 5 on the Fortune 500 this year, behind the more-commonly-known Walmart, Exxon, Apple, and Berkshire Hathaway. "Don't blame the middleman," is the story the Gazette-Mail heard: Distributors say they only send to licensed pharmacies, which should only dole out pills when prescribed by a doctor. In a letter, McKesson argues "[those] two roles that interface directly with the patient" are better poised to stamp out abuse. The distributors are supposed to alert the state Board of Pharmacy when orders look suspicious, and yet the Gazette-Mail sussed out cases like the "mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana" whose oxycodone delivery was 600 times greater than that of the Rite Aid eight blocks away. Head to the Gazette-Mail for the full piece, which also tracks how the potency of the pills sent is increasing. (Read more Oxycodone stories.)