Prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone pounded Floyd and other Eastern Kentucky counties during the height of the opioid crisis, according to federal data released by the Washington Post last week.
According to the report, from 2006 to 2012, more than 47.4 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were supplied to Floyd County, and three local pharmacies received more pain pills than other pharmacies in the state.
In that time, more than 1.9 billion of these pills were supplied in Kentucky, and three local pharmacies ranked in the top five for the number of these pills received, the Post reported.
Value-Med Pharmacy in Paintsville received around 10.4 million of them — ranking first statewide. Little & Waddell Inc., which owns the Med Zone Pharmacy on Ky. 321, ranked third on the list of pharmacies that received the highest number of hydrocodone and Oxycodone pills, receiving nearly 9.3 million of them between 2006 and 2012, and the Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy in Paintsville ranked fourth on the pharmacy list, having received about 9.2 million pills.
Kentucky ranked second in the nation for the most pain pills that were distributed, with 63.3 distributed per person, per year, between 2006-2012, falling behind West Virginia where 66.5 pills were distribute per person. Nationwide, the rate was 36 pills per person per year, and the rates quadrupled that amount in local counties.
The Washington Post’s interactive map shows that Eastern Kentucky had some of the highest rates nationally. In Floyd County, it was 168 pills per person per year, the data says, and it was 175 per person per year in Perry County, 152 per person per year in Johnson County and 146 per person per year in Pike County. The Post reported that Perry County ranked fourth for the number of pills distributed, per person per year, nationwide.
This information was provided last week in a national database shared by the Washington Post. The newspaper sifted through nearly 380 million transactions from 2006 and 2012 that detailed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s ARCOS, or Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System. Nationally, drug companies distributed 76 billion doses of these pain pills during that time, the Washington Post reports, and only six companies distributed 75 percent of them — McKesson Corporation, Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmeriSouceBergen, CVS and Walmart.
“The volumes of the pills handled by the companies climbed as the epidemic surged, increasing 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. By contrast, doses of morphine, a well-known treatment for severe pain, averaged slightly more than 500 million a year during the same period,” the Post reported.
Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brent Turner said he is not surprised about these statistics.
“Our experience from the prosecution side in terms of the number of trafficking cases, the possession cases, the overdose deaths, the drug-related crimes that we see, would support that (those statistics),” Turner said. “I don’t think there’s any question that the whole area is flooded with pain pills. It has been for a long time.”
He said there is some evidence to suggest there’s been a “slight drop off” in the number of pain pill prescriptions.
“But it’s not much,” he said. “They basically attributed that to a little bit more scrutiny of the doctors. The medical licensure people have been more aggressive in finally trying to shut down some of the pain clinics, and then, some doctors have been a bit more leery about how many they write. So there’s been a slight decrease, but it’s not like any big victory.”
In 2013, a year after the 2006-2012 data was made available in the Washington Post database, hydrocodone accounted for 42 percent of all controlled substances sold in Kentucky, while Oxycodone accounted for 16 percent of all subscriptions, according to the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System.
KASPER issued a report in May showing that hydrocodone made up about 27 percent of all controlled substances prescribed in Kentucky during the first four months of this year, and Oxycodone accounted for about 14 percent of all controlled substance prescriptions. The rate of hydrocodone prescriptions has dropped by about half since 2013, KASPER reports, but the rate of prescriptions for Oxycodone has stayed about the same.
Turner said the “slight decrease” in pain pill prescriptions has been offset by another drug, methamphetamine, which accounts for most of the drug-related crime in Floyd County.
Turner said he recently learned that methamphetamine can lessen withdraw symptoms for people who are addicted to pain pills, a reason some people believe the drug is becoming more popular.
“It’s the biggest thing going right now,” Turner said about meth. “The pain pills are still out there, but we are absolutely covered up with Mexican cartel crystal meth. That’s where it comes from. It comes straight out of Mexico. It’s made in labs in Mexico. It’s coming up through Atlanta, and just about everybody that we get on any kind of traffic stop arrest, they all have crystal meth. They may have other things with it, but we, in almost all of our cases, our trafficking cases, everything we’re seeing now is meth.”
Turner said meth is less likely to cause people to overdose, but it presents difficult challenges for local law enforcement as they work to ensure the safety of the public.
“One of the things, too, that’s been different about the meth problem is, compared to pain pills, if you someone that’s abusing pain pills, opioids, they’re dangerous if they’re on the road, or whatever, but the majority of them, if they take a bunch of pills, they pass out. It’s a depressant,” Turner said. “With the crystal meth, it’s harder to overdose on. I mean, it can kill you, but, for the most part, you don’t see people overdose on it. And what it does is, it’s like speed, and they get just filled with energy and they’ll stay up for days at a time.”
He said that sleep deprivation causes problems like hallucinations.
“There’s a lot of people out doing a lot of dangerous things, violent things, that are directly attributable to meth,” Turner said.
Arrest warrants and indictments filed in Floyd and surrounding counties are full of stories that show the impact meth has on people in this region. Numerous cases, for example, have been filed in Floyd County alleging police assaults and domestic violence claims that also include methamphetamine possession.
Turner said Delbert Conn, a Garrett resident who was recently sentenced to 12 years for stabbing his girlfriend in the face, was on crystal meth at the time that assault occurred. He said Conn cuts the woman’s face open from her mouth to her ear.
“He was on crystal meth,” Turner said. “And he was having all these paranoid thoughts and accusations about her.”
Turner also said Robert Powers, the Auxier resident who was sentenced to 20 years in Dec. 2018 for shooting former Prestonsburg Police Officer Adam Dixon, was also on crystal meth at the time of that shooting.
“It was widely believed from the evidence in that case that he was on crystal meth,” Turner said. “When they encountered him, he was talking out of his head, making all these accusations about helicopters falling, cameras in his house and all of this nonsense, and there was some evidence in the case that he was on meth.”
Editor’s note: Some of the data from the ARCOS system used in this report was provided courtesy The Washington Post. Further local data may be viewed by visiting, https://wapo.st/32NLrFp.