Old But Significant News: 13M Opioid Pills Sent to Area
GREENFIELD — In a county of 71,000, an unprecedented number of prescription opioid pills — 13.3 million — were supplied to regional pharmacies from 2006 to 2012, according to a database published by The Washington Post last week.
A U.S. District Court in Cleveland ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to release the database after The Post filed a lawsuit against the agency, the newspaper reported.
But Franklin County officials and advocates say these numbers — while significant — are old news, given opioid prescriptions have declined in recent years according to the state Department of Public Health. They say the root of the crisis now lies with the more potent, deadlier versions of opioids: heroin and fentanyl.
The DEA’s database included a breakdown of pills distributed by manufacturers and ordered by pharmacies. Manufacturers that sent the most prescription pain pills to Franklin County were SpecGx LLC, with 6.5 million; ActavisPharma, Inc., with 2.9 million; Par Pharmaceutical, 1.6 million,; West-Ward Pharaceuticals Corp., 640,000; and Purdue Pharma LP, 570,000.
Between 2006 and 2012, Federal Street’s CVS ordered the most opioid pills of any regional pharmacy: about 5.3 million. Next was Walgreen Eastern Co. in Greenfield, which ordered 1.4 million pills. Then came Shelburne Falls’ Anderson Pharmacy, which ordered 1.2 million, then Turners Falls’ Maxi Drug ordered 1 million, and finally Greenfield’s Stop and Shop, which ordered nearly 900,000.
Mike DeAngelis, senior director for corporate communications at CVS, said in a statement the store has “taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation’s opioid epidemic.”
DeAngelis added: “Keep in mind that doctors have the primary responsibility to make sure the opioid prescriptions they write are for a legitimate purpose.”
In Franklin County and North Quabbin, the opioid crisis has only gotten worse. Last year, 30 county residents were killed by an opioid overdose, up from 12 the year before and 13 the year before that, according to the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region. Debra McLaughlin, coordinator for the Opioid Task Force, said “the deadly presence of fentanyl” was mostly to blame. The synthetic opioid accounted for 89 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts last year, according to Department of Public Health data.
Dr. Ruth Potee, medical director for addiction services for all of Behavioral Health Network, pointed out that the DEA’s data is years old and should have been released at the time it was happening, when the crisis was planting down roots in the region and across the country. She said the public has the right to see data freely, without needing to file a lawsuit.
Potee said the federal government should have “stepped up” and offered help to areas like Franklin County when it saw pharmacies ordering and selling more and more pain pills.
“The federal government has known about this from the beginning,” Potee said. “They were holding onto the information and not making it public.”
Of prescription pain pills, Mayor William Martin remarked that “the damage is done.” And the toll, he said, encompasses “everything from death to domestic violence.”
Martin sent four CVS executives a letter Wednesday asking why the Greenfield pharmacy’s large opioid orders did not raise any concerns. He requested a reply.
“How is it possible that no CVS internal alarms alerted the monitors of such a large deployment of opioids to one pharmacy?” Martin wrote. “Though we are the most impoverished and rural county in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, our city one of the smallest, we are a proud group and seek an explanation for this distribution ‘anomaly.’”
Greenfield was among the first cities in the state to sue over the opioid epidemic, Martin said. In December 2017, Martin filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Springfield against opioid distributors and manufacturers, he said, “for all the costs and impacts to the community” of the epidemic. Martin said he expects the suit will discuss the settlement “in the upcoming months” and make a decision later this year.
Today, 40 percent of inmates at the Franklin County House of Correction are addicted to opioids when they are incarcerated, said Ed Hayes, assistant superintendent at the Sheriff’s Office. In 2016, that number was 30 percent.
“We continue to see an increase in people who enter the jail with an opioid use disorder,” Hayes said. “Despite our best efforts, there’s an increase in drug-related crime.”
Reach Grace Bird at
413-772-0261, ext. 280.