Nearly 37 million prescription pain pills were supplied to pharmacies in Wilson County between 2006 and 2012, according to a recently released database from the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The DEA released a database to The Washington Post after a year-long court battle to make public the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System.
The newspaper reviewed 380 million transactions and created a by-state, and by-county compilation to review. It released the information for media and readers to access.
The DEA produced data from only 2006 through 2012 in the court case.
The newspaper’s website said that “it’s important to remember that the number of pills in each county does not necessarily mean those pills went to people who live in that county. The data only shows us what pharmacies the pills are shipped to and nothing else.”
Tennessee ranked fourth among states that distributed the most pills. According to the report, there were 2.5 billion opioids supplied to Tennessee from 2006-2012, and nearly 504 million of those pills supplied statewide were distributed by Walgreens.
The Washington Post’s research stated that between 2006 and 2012, there were 36,945,648 pills supplied to pharmacies in Wilson County. That is enough for 48 pills to each person in Wilson County each year in that time.
The most pills were received and distributed through Walgreens in Lebanon, according to The Washington Post’s information. More than 9.4 million were distributed by Wilson County Walgreens stores. More than 5 million pills were distributed to the two Lebanon stores, the data states.
During the seven-year period, more than 4 million were received and sold at Gibbs Pharmacy in Lebanon and more than 3 million at Buckeye’s Discount Drug Center in Lebanon. Kroger in Lebanon distributed more than 2 million and the CVS store in Lebanon distributed more than 2 million pills, as well.
Walgreens issued a statement replying to questions from The Washington Post.
“Walgreens has not distributed prescription-controlled substances since 2014 and before that time only distributed to our chain of pharmacies,” the statement said. “Walgreens has been an industry leader in combatting this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work.”
To view the reports for counties and states nationwide, view the charts at https://tinyurl.com/y3amsr5q.
Pills in Tennessee
The Tennessee Department of Health drug overdose dashboard, produced this year, reported that there were 6 million painkiller prescriptions statewide in 2018. The department did not note the pill average per prescription.
The Department of Health’s report showed a continued decline in the number of opioids prescribed for painkillers between 2014 and 2018. At their highest in the third quarter of 2014, 2.11 million prescriptions of opioids for pain were filled statewide. Since that peak, opioid prescriptions for pain have fallen to 1.44 million filled prescriptions statewide in the fourth quarter of 2018, representing a decrease of 31.8 percent.
Opioids such as Oxycodone and hydrocodone are the main cause of the drug overdoses in Tennessee, with a large margin over fentanyl, heroin, methadone and benzodiazepines such Ativan and valium, according to the stats from the Department of Health.
Law enforcement response
Despite that statistic, local law enforcement officials say they don’t always initially know the type of drugs taken in an overdose.
The Wilson County Sheriff’s Department began keeping specific statistics related to overdoses in January 2018.
“Since January 1, 2018, we have been called out to work and assist in 37 overdose cases including but not limited to death as a result,” said WCSO spokesman Lt. Scott Moore said in August. “Out of the 37, many cases of Narcan was administered either by our office or from the Wilson Emergency Management Agency and were able to revive the subject back.”
Moore said that the number of calls related to drug overdoses, specifically involving the use of opioids, has been increasing over the past several years.
“We are working every day to combat this epidemic with other local law enforcement agencies as well with our local anti-drug coalition, DrugFree WilCo,” he said. “We have developed a list of resources through DrugFree WilCo that are available to those who are struggling with addiction.”
In addition to DrugFree Wilco, the WCSO will be “working with our local youth who will assist us in creating opioid specific public service announcements to be disseminated out within the schools as a proactive tool for education.”
Mt. Juliet Police Capt. Tyler Chandler said that although the MJPD does not have statistics of any drug-related deaths, there were 14 drug overdoses in 2017, 33 in 2018 and 15 as of the end of July 2019. Those are total drug overdoses, not just those attributed to opioids.
“Any drug overdose is concerning to our department, and we investigate every overdose that occurs,” Chandler said. “When an overdose occurs, a detective is called to the scene, and the detective is tasked with investigating all aspects of the overdose. Those aspects include how the overdose occurred and how the individual obtained the drugs.
He added that, “through our partnership with Addiction Campuses, those individuals are offered a resource to help them with any addiction that they could have. “
Each of the Mt. Juliet staff is also equipped with Narcan, which can and has been used with responding to overdose calls, Chandler said.
Lebanon Police Department spokesman P.J. Hardy said that the use of legal opioids, such as Oxycodone and hydrocodone, is a growing problem in the United States, but illegal opioids seem to be more problematic. Illegal opioids can include heroin and fentanyl.
He noted that prior to January 2019, all overdose calls were lumped in to either “medical assist” or “deceased person” call codes. However, due to the opioid situation “locally and around the country,” LPD has created a new code specifically for overdose incidents and the final result of the call.
“Since January of this year, we have had 76 overdose call outs,” Hardy said. There were nine total deaths from overdose calls.
While those numbers are alarming to LPD officers and many members of the public, they mirror the numbers being found across many other cities, Hardy said. There is no way to know initially if the drugs were purchased legally or illegally, he said.
“Drug use and addiction has always been a serious issue, but it has never been as dangerous as it is today,” he said. “Drugs across the board, from marijuana to pills to illicit drugs, are now subject to be enhanced, or ‘laced,’ with lethal additives such as fentanyl and Carfentanil.”
Hardy said that using the illicit pills is “literally playing roulette when someone participates in illegal drug use. There is no way to know whether lethal substances are contained in the drugs being purchased, whether by way of increasing sales by would-be dealers or simply contamination by other means.”
There are currently two people under indictment for supply drugs resulting in death, he said.
He added that the department is doing everything it can to “curb the devastating effects of drug abuse, from prosecuting dealers and those who supply the drugs resulting in death, to offering resources for addicts, as well as providing more education and information about the dangers.”
Fatal doses of drugs
In addition to LPD’s efforts, “more and more outreach organizations and events are taking place to further the message of the dangers of today’s drug abuse and addiction.”
In 2017, the Department of Health report noted that there were 34 drug-related deaths in Wilson County. That consisted of all drugs, not just opioids.
The number of drug-related deaths has leveled off, according to a chart supplied by the Department of Health. In 2015, there were 37 deaths in Wilson County, and last year, there were also 34 drug-related deaths in the county.
Of that, 26 were opioid deaths in 2017. In 2016, the rate was higher, charting 27 opioid-related deaths. There were fewer in 2013, when there were 17 opioid deaths.
Calls to Dr. Scott Giles, the county’s medical examiner, were unreturned. His office and cell phone were called.
According to the Department of Health, in Tennessee in 2017, there were 1,268 overdose deaths from opioids statewide.
That is up from 2013, when the Department of Health recorded 1,062 drug related deaths. The number has risen over the five-year period.
White men are more likely to die of the deaths, according to data from the Department of Health, studied over a three-year period, from 2013-2015.
“Rates increased for both males and females, as well as (African-American and Caucasian people),” the Department of Health report said. “Highest rates were observed for males and whites in 2017.”
For more information from the Department of Health’s report, visit https://tinyurl.com/y2c7dyvn
The top five pill-selling pharmacies in Wilson County from 2006-2012 (numbers listed are total number of pills:
Walgreens (Lebanon) – 5,137,200
Gibbs Pharmacy (Lebanon) – 4,035,720
Buckeye’s Discount Drug Center (Lebanon) – 3,227,240
Kroger Pharmacy (Lebanon) – 2,354,410
Tennessee CVS Pharmacy (Lebanon) – 2,041,160
The top five companies that distributed pills to all pharmacies in Wilson County from 2006-2012:
Walgreen Co. – 9,488,700
Morris & Dickson Co. – 4,798,370
Cardinal Health – 3,908,860
Smith Drug Company – 3,740,450
Kroger – 3,722,930
-Source: The Washington Post