Last Friday, the Washington Post published a chilling online report detailing where prescription pain medication was distributed in every county in the United States from 2006-2012. Included in the report is a function that allows one to select any county and see the stores in which these pills were sold and the quantity of pills sold at each location. In this study, the only pills counted were oxycodone and hydrocodone, which represent three-quarters of the total opioid pill shipments to pharmacies during this time period, per the Post. Absent from this data are pills that were sold and continue to be sold since 2012.
For easy math, the following numbers have been slightly rounded. In Ellsworth, from 2006-2012, local pharmacies sold over 8,470,000 pills. On average this is: 1.4 million pills per year, 117,500 pills per month or 3,800 pills every day. I checked my math three times because these numbers did not seem possible.
The five pharmacies that sold these pills, from most sales to least, were: Hannaford, Rite Aid, Walmart, New Albertson’s (located in Shaws) and Walgreens. Hannaford sold 4.2 million pills over the six years, 700,000 pills per year, 58,500 pills per month or 1,900 pills per day. Rite Aid and Walmart were both over 1.1 million pills for the six years, followed by New Albertson’s and Walgreens, each over 700,000 pills per year.
While local law enforcement, hospitals, doctors, treatment centers, drug users, their families and friends were (are) struggling to address this full-blown catastrophe, these five stores were rigorously fueling the epidemic.
While the Post report is informative, it is only a starting point for addressing what happened from 2006-2012 and continues to happen every day not only in Ellsworth but in every town in America. I hope that The Ellsworth American will fully investigate and provide answers to the many questions that arise from this report, including:
• Are pills still being sold at this extraordinary rate? How many pills did the five Ellsworth pharmacies sell last week?
•Who are the doctors who wrote the prescriptions for all of these pills and are they still doing so? How many pills did each doctor prescribe? Do pharmacies have this data? Do hospitals know how many opioids their doctors prescribed then and how many they prescribe today? If not, why not? Do any of these people have any comment?
• Who are the pharmacy managers and why didn’t they sound the alarm when thousands of pills began moving through their stores on a weekly basis? How do they respond today? Do they have any comment?
• Same questions for the pill wholesalers and manufacturers: When the pills began moving at an alarming rate, who was in charge and why was nothing done? And today?
• Can anyone be held accountable?
This week, the largest civil trial in U.S. history will begin when about 2,000 cities, counties, Native American tribes and other plaintiffs join to sue drug companies for their roles in this epidemic. Are any Maine towns represented?
I encourage readers to go online to delve more deeply into this data regarding their own towns. In closing, since I live in Blue Hill, I am including our data from 2006-2012. Rite Aid and Community Pharmacy combined to sell over 1.2 million opioid pills (about 600,000 from each pharmacy), 207,000 per year, 17,300 per month, 570 every day.