Meanwhile, those dealing with opioid addiction are struggling to access adequate treatment.
The opioid epidemic has resulted in countless deaths and widespread personal suffering — and we’re only now beginning to understand the factors that created it.
New research data released by the federal government showed that half of all the opioids sold between 2006 and 2012 (some 35 billion pills) were retailed through only 15-percent of US pharmacies.
This means that some pharmacies in smaller communities were selling massive amounts of opioids — far more than would typically be needed to meet the needs of their communities.
A Crisis in Over-Prescription
According to government data, one small town pharmacy in Kentucky purchased 6.8 million opioid pills between 2006 and 2012 — enough to give 96 pills each year to every resident in that county.
That pharmacy shared a building with a physician who pleaded guilty in federal court in 2019 to illegally prescribing opioids.
Federal officials say that over-prescribing opioids — and filling them at rates much higher than would normally be seen — are two of the key reasons why drug addiction and overdose deaths have spiked sharply over the last 15 years.
A Washington Post analysis of federal drug prescription data also showed correlations between rising prescription numbers and overall death rates. In one Kentucky county, the local death rate surged by 900-percent at the same time the number of opioid prescriptions were spiking.
Many of the pharmacies with the highest rates of prescription fulfillment are located in regions hardest hit by the opioid epidemic (Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia).
Inadequate Access to Treatment
The opioid epidemic has left vast numbers of people seeking treatment for ongoing addiction issues. Yet while there are proven treatments that have been shown to significantly reduce mortality, access remains an issue.
Buprenorphine is one example. The drug is commonly prescribed by physicians to help patients treat their opioid addictions. It has also proven highly effective.
Yet many people struggling with opioid issues cannot receive this treatment. That’s because federal law limits how many patients a physician can treat with buprenorphine.
Additionally, physicians must undergo an 8-hour training course in order to receive a waiver allowing them to prescribe buprenorphine.
Complicating matters to an even greater degree, some pharmacists prefer not to stock buprenorphine. Though the drug is only a partial opioid and is not used recreationally in the same manner as a full opioid, diversion and theft remain an issue.
Even for pharmacies willing to stock buprenorphine, access to inventory may be a problem. The federal government requires that the drug be ordered in small batches in order to reduce the risk of theft or diversion.
Opioid Addiction and the Law
If you’ve struggled with opioid addiction — or have a loved one in that position — it’s imperative that you seek treatment.
However, if you believe your addiction is partially the result of a physician or pharmacy’s negligent practices, you may also wish to speak with an attorney.
If you have been charged with a drug crime (such as opioid possession), the right attorney can also help ensure that you are treated fairly and compassionately.