The opioid epidemic has been widespread across the nation over the past decade or so, and the Twin Counties have not been immune.
A database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration was released, tracking the path of every pain pill sold in the United States, including specific states and counties. Between 2006 and 2012, there were 380 million transactions involving oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, accounting for three-quarters of the total opioid pills distributed to pharmacies.
The Washington Post analyzed the data by county and made the information public this week. The time period covered by the report is the most recent data available.
During the time period analyzed, from 2006 to 2012, there were more than 76 billion individual oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed across the country.
“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,” according to The Washington Post.
In Columbia County, the data indicates that 13,933,020 prescription pain pills were sold during that time period, enough for 31 pills per person in the county per year.
The numbers were similar in Greene County, where 13,828,840 pills were distributed, enough for 40 pills for every person in the county each year in the study.
The data also analyzes pharmacies where the pills were sold. In the Twin Counties, CVS stores received the highest number of pills in both counties from 2006 to 2012.
In Columbia County, CVS in Hudson received 4,006,130 opioid pills from 2006-2012, followed by Eckerd Corporation in Hudson, with 1,668,270, and The Golub Corporation, which owns Price Chopper, also in Hudson, with 1,435,760.
In Greene County, the CVS in Cairo received the highest number of pills for the same time period, at 3,229,600; Rite Aid in Greenville at 1,480,980; and The Golub Corporation, Price Chopper, in Catskill, with 1,367,460.
These pills were delivered to the specific pharmacies, but they were not necessarily sold to local residents; pills could have been sold to others from outside the county, according to the report.
Michael DeAngelis, senior director of corporate communications for CVS, said the company has “stringent” policies and procedures to make sure controlled substances are properly dispensed. There were reasons for the number of opioid pills disbursed at both CVSs, in Hudson and in Cairo, DeAngelis said.
“Our pharmacy in Cairo is near Cairo Family Care and our pharmacy in Hudson is located near Columbia Memorial Hospital, Columbia Memorial’s Pain Management and Women’s Health practices and HRHCare Health Center at Hudson, among other medical practices,” DeAngelis said. “Prescriptions written in these facilities make up a large part of these pharmacies’ business, including patients who were prescribed pain medication by the physicians who practice there. In addition, our pharmacy in Cairo acquired the prescriptions of another local pharmacy that closed around the time frame of the DEA’s data.”
While more recent data on the distribution of opioids in specific counties are not available, there has been a decline in the number of opioid overdoses in Columbia County in subsequent years, from 2017 to 2018. In 2017 there were 19 opioid overdoses in Columbia County, and in 2018 that number dropped to six, according to the state Department of Health website. Those figures include all forms of opioids, not just pain pills, and mirror a national trend, which shows drug overdose deaths on the decline for the first time in three decades.
But that doesn’t mean the opioid epidemic is in decline.
“While we’ve seen a decrease in overdoses, the number of persons seeking treatment for addiction has increased,” Columbia Memorial Hospital spokesman Bill Van Slyke said. “To meet that need, we’ve partnered with Greener Pathways to help patients transition from our emergency department into medication-assisted treatment in both counties.”
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell attributed part of the decline in lethal opioid cases to steps the county has taken to address the problem.
“We started in 2017 with a committee that wrote a plan regarding how we will deal with the opioid problem. Back in 2017 the reason that occurred was because we had a rash of overdoses and deaths in the county,” Murell said.
The committee came up with a “multi-faceted plan” involving education, treatment, prevention, rehabilitation and law enforcement, he added. The plan was adopted in 2017 and later involved Greene County as well.
“In 2018 we agreed with Greene County to join forces to fight the opioid epidemic so now it is a Twin County coalition to deal with the issue,” Murell said. “We hired a full-time coordinator - both Columbia County and Greene County put in equal amounts of funding to hire a substance abuse coordinator for the two counties. We invested in public relations, and we started up a website to give information regarding where people can get services and information about substance abuse issues.”
The decline in opioid overdoses in Greene County was less stark, with 13 opioid overdoses in 2017 and 12 in 2018. Those figures reflect data for all opioid overdoses, including pain pills and heroin.
For more information on the report, visit https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/dea-pain-pill-database/?utm_term=.2fd9e5c88b63