MEDINA – Drug makers supplied more than 48 million prescription pain pills to distributors in Medina County between 2006 and 2012, enough for about 40 pills per person per year.
That information is part of a huge database compiled and released recently by The Washington Post. The newspaper analyzed data from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS, from 2006 to 2012.
Data analyzed includes only shipments from sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to retail pharmacies, chain pharmacies and practitioners. The entire database tracks a dozen different opioids, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, which make up three-quarters of the total pill shipments to pharmacies.
The Washington Post analysis shows that the volumes of the pills handled by companies climbed as the opioid epidemic surged across the country, increasing 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012.
Government data on drug distribution since 2012 has not yet been made available and analyzed by the paper.
However, the effects of the opioid epidemic were felt in succeeding years and reached a peak in Medina County in 2016 when the Medina County Drug Enforcement Task Force reported 260 opioid overdose cases that resulted in 34 deaths.
“We really started noticing the increase in opioid overdoses in 2015,” said Gary Hubbard, director of the Medina County Drug Enforcement Task Force.
The 40 pills per person per year sold to residents of Medina County between 2006 and 2012 was a relatively high rate for the region. The Post database indicates 29 pills per person were sold in Cuyahoga County during the same period and 32 pills per person were sold in Lorain County then. Wayne County had 25 pills per person sold from 2006 to 2012 and Summit County, 44.
The Medina County pharmacies selling the most pills from 2006 to 2012 were Lo-Med Prescription Services in Wadsworth (10 million pills), the Giant Eagle Pharmacy in Brunswick (2.6 million), Discount Drug Mart in Lodi (2.4 million), the Lodi CVS store (2.3 million), and the Medina CVS store (1.6 million).
Hubbard said many of those pills were likely purchased to feed addictions. His agency found that some drug users would “shop for doctors” who would readily prescribe the pain medication and then get prescriptions from multiple doctors. The purpose was to use the pills themselves or sell them on the street.
Hubbard said doctor-shopping has since been curtailed by a new state database that allows doctors and physicians to track the sale of prescription drug pills. In addition, the drug task force launched an initiative to caution doctors and pharmacists of the practice.
Drug overdoses here have declined in the last few years. Hubbard reported 120 overdoses last year resulting in 20 deaths.
However, Hubbard said the decline in availability of opiates has led to an increase in the use of methamphetamine, which is cheaper and easier to obtain.
In 2017, then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic, accusing several drug companies of conducting marketing campaigns that misled doctors and patients about the danger of addiction and overdose.
Later that year, Medina County Prosecutor Forrest Thompson signed on as participants in lawsuits filed by the Washington, D.C. law firm Motley Rice and its Akron partner Brennan Manna and Diamond, which claim drug manufacturers were complicit in the costly opiate crisis.