22.9M pain pills fueled Allen’s opioid crisis

By Josh Ellerbrock - jellerbrock@limanews.com

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LIMA — Recently released data by the Drug Enforcement Agency estimates 22.9 million pain pills flooded Allen County in the years between 2006 and 2012, fueling a public health crisis that resulted in 115 overdose deaths in the subsequent five years.

Obtained by The Washington Post, the numbers are the latest data set linking pharmaceutical manufacturers with a wide-ranging endeavor to market opiate products, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, during the early years of the crisis despite knowing the drug’s highly addictive properties.

As a consequence of such efforts, the DEA tracked the purchase of 70 billion prescription opioids from 2006 to 2012 throughout the United States. A total of 3.7 billion hit Ohio.

While northwest Ohio avoided some of the largest totals in country, the number of prescription prescription pills are still staggering for Allen and its surrounding counties. In Auglaize County, 8 million pain pills were purchased, and roughly 5.5 million pills were purchased in each of Putnam, Mercer and Van Wert counties.

Of the six-county region, Hardin County saw the highest totals compared to population. A total of 7.7 million were purchased in the county from 2006 to 2012, averaging 34 pills per person per year.

As for the present, the number of prescription opioids have since been reduced due to increased regulation by the DEA. Pharmacists have also instituted changes to ensure those prescribed opioids understand the dangers and can access overdose prevention measures, such as naloxone, said Katie Westgerdes, HealthWise Pharmacy manager in the ONU College of Pharmacy.

“The overarching goal is to make sure patients need the medication and to prevent unnecessary prescribing of opiates,” Westgerdes said.

One such tool to do so is the state database known as the Ohio Automated RX Reporting System, or OARRS.

“We’re able to discern if someone is doctor shopping or not receiving the right kind of care,” Westgerdes said.

As for differences between county pill totals, Westgerders said a place like Hardin County may have higher pill totals because of how the county’s medical professionals utilized opioid prescriptions. Counties without chronic pain experts would have leaned on acute pain treatments, which bumps up the quantity of pills overall, Westgerdes said.

State of treatment

While changes in prescribing practices have reduced the number of pain pills on the market, the number of patients looking for treatment hasn’t dropped off. Instead, the crisis has forced public agencies to revamp treatment options and emergency processes to respond to overdoses caused by the use of highly-addictive substances like heroin and other fentanyl-laced drugs, said Brenda Bowden, director of nursing at Coleman Professional Services.

Bowden, however, has seen improvements in treatment.

“We’re seeing more recovery. We’re seeing more people staying clean longer,” Bowden said.

Current treatment options include creating medically assisted treatment programs, adding extensive wraparound services and encouraging some sort of mental therapy, which Lima UMADAOP leans on during its outpatient services, said Shawn Gurley, criminal justice coordinator with LIMA UMADAOP.

“There’s more accessibility to treatment now more than ever based on services throughout the state and what’s provided on a local level,” Gurley said.

In the future, Allen County is looking to the federal case to see how much the county will be reimbursed for its efforts paying for those services and the reverberations caused by the crisis. The county joined the federal lawsuit this past year to get a percentage of the expected payout initially caused by 22.9 million pain pills.

“As I looked at the lawsuit and the claims, I don’t think there’s any dispute that there was some serious wrongdoing by the manufacturers and distributors, it’s getting to know what it is actually costing the county and that’s really a difficult number to get your hands on,” Allen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick said.

Number of pills distributed by county population

Number of pain pills distributed by pharmacy by county

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By Josh Ellerbrock


Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398

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