21M Painkillers Were Shipped to One Tiny West Virginia Town Over Last Decade

By Kelly Burch 02/02/18
The town of Williamson has a population of just 2,900 people.
WV has the highest overdose death rate in the United States.

West Virginia has the highest overdose rate in the country, which has been blamed on the lack of economic opportunities in the state. However, new investigations also show that drug manufacturers shipped massive amounts of opioids into the state, including nearly 21 million pills over 10 years sent to a town with just 2,900 residents.

The numbers were revealed as part of an investigation into the opioid epidemic by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Charleston Gazette-Mail  reported.

“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” said committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) in a joint statement.

The town of Williamson, West Virginia, which has a population of 2,900 people, received 10.2 million hydrocodone pills and 10.6 million oxycodone pills between 2006 and 2016. The pills were sent to two pharmacies that are just blocks apart.

The House committee is questioning why drug manufacturers did not flag the excessive amount of opioids being consumed, even as the drug epidemic began claiming lives and making headlines in West Virginia and across the country. Committee members recently sent letters to regional drug wholesalers Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith demanding explanations.

Miami-Luken disclosed that it had sold 6.4 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to Tug Valley Pharmacy, one of the Williamson pharmacies, from 2008 to 2015. In one year, from 2008 to 2009, the wholesaler tripled the amount of drug shipments to Williamson.

The company was also responsible for supplying opioids to a now-closed pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia. That town, which resides in the same county as Williamson, has a population of 400, yet received 5.7 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2005 and 2011. In 2008, Miami-Luken shipped enough painkillers to the town to provide 5,624 pills to every resident, including children.

“The committee’s bipartisan investigation continues to identify systemic issues with the inordinate number of opioids distributed to small town pharmacies,” Walden and Pallone said in the statement. “The volume appears to be far in excess of the number of opioids that a pharmacy in that local area would be expected to receive."

The two drug wholesalers have until Feb. 9 to respond to the committee’s questioning.

“We will continue to investigate these distributors’ shipments of large quantities of powerful opioids across West Virginia, including what seems to be a shocking lack of oversight over their distribution practices,” Walden and Pallone said in the statement.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.