Two rural Virginia towns were saturated with opioid pills over four years, dataset shows

Picture courtesy Pixabay

A federal judge ordered the release of a massive Drug Enforcement Administration dataset detailing just how big of a role drug companies and pharmacies have played in the country’s opioid epidemic.

The data, according to the Washington Post, tracks the path of each pain pill sold in the country. Though Virginia wasn’t in the top five states with the highest concentration of pills, according to the Post’s analysis two towns, Norton and Martinsville, topped the list for per capital pills in rural areas from 2006 to 2012.

Norton received the highest concentration, with 306 pills per person, while Martinsville followed with 242.

The Post also developed an interactive graphic that shows, locality-by-locality, the number of pills distributed per person, per year.

In Virginia, the darkest areas — representing the greatest pill distribution — were concentrated in the far southwestern part of the state, bordering Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, all three of which were included in the top five states with the greatest concentration of pills.

The data tracks 12 different types of highly addictive opioid painkillers, which includes prescription drugs like oxycodone.

A news release from Attorney General Mark Herring’s office says that the dataset is consistent with data acquired through Herring’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, “which showed that Purdue alone pushed nearly 150 million opioid pills and patches into the Commonwealth of Virginia between 2008 to 2017.”

“This new data just reinforces what we’ve long known: the roots of this crisis run through American medicine cabinets into the boardrooms and marketing offices of pharmaceutical companies, and they need to be held accountable,” Herring said.

Virginia has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, though last year there were slightly fewer fatal opioid overdoses, representing the first decline since 2012. Other sorts of drug overdoses spiked, though, including methamphetamine and cocaine fatalities.

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Katie O'Connor
Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.