By Tia Lynn Ivey
A new database shows opioid prescription drug use is disturbingly ubiquitous across the country, and Morgan County is no exception. Between 2006 and 2012, over 4 million prescription pain pills were supplied to Morgan County, enough for 32 pills per person per year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which tracks every single pain pill sold in the United States, has made the organization’s records public from 2006-2012, after fighting prolonged legal pressure from media outlets to do so. The Washington Post sifted through the newly released DEA information to compile a navigable database of hydrocodone and oxycodone quantities on the state and county level. The results reveal a nation increasingly dependent on highly-addictive, and sometimes fatal, prescription pain medicine.
“These records provide an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths during the seven-year time frame ending in 2012,” wrote the Washington Post editorial board.
The now closed Moore Health Pharmacy in Madison received the highest number of pain pills in the county, outpacing even Walmart, with over 1 million pills.
According to Washington Posts database, the top five pharmacies to distribute in pain pills in Morgan County between 2006-2012 were all located in Madison: Moore Health, with 1,010,240 pills, Walmart Pharmacy with 1,008,220 pills, Thrifty Mac Discount Drug with 810,660 pills, Madison Drug Company with 560,160, and the Eckerd Corporation with 480,590.
In recent years, the emerging opioid crisis has swept across America, claiming tens of thousands of lives each and every year. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) “opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others.”
The use of opioids has increased drastically in recent years, contributing to the alarming increases of accidental deaths. According to the ASAM, “Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.”
Georgia State leaders have sounded the alarm warning citizens of the deadly consequences of opioid addictions, which all too often began with legal prescriptions.
According to Georgia’s Attorney General’s office, between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 people in this country died due to drug overdoses – this is a death toll larger than the entire population of Atlanta.
“These staggering numbers have put drug overdoses as the leading cause of death in America, surpassing the combined totals for gun homicides and car crashes. Shockingly enough, sustaining this death toll is the equivalent of experiencing an event like September 11 every three weeks,” said Chris Carr, Attorney General of Georgia.
Opioid drug overdoses have become so prevalent, local law enforcement agencies are now armed with a lifesaving drug to counteract fatal opioid overdoses.
In 2017, The Madison City Police and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department and other emergency personnel equipped themselves with NARCAN, a nasal spray form of naloxone for emergency treatments of opioid overdose.
“It’s a miracle drug,” said City Manager David Nunn.
In 2018, Madison Police Officers Stacey Eaton and Andre Johnson administered Narcan to Morgan County man who had overdosed. He was not breathing and lips had turned purple, but the officers’ handy Narcan pouches reversed the fatal effects and the man’s life was saved.
Morgan County Captain Chris Bish forewarned of the opioid crisis slowly heading to Morgan County years ago when it first emerged in western states. It was only a matter of time, he thought. Now, both the City of Madison, Morgan County and other emergency personnel teams are being proactive in the fight against the opioid.
But the opioid crisis has not only created an alarming number of addicts in life-threatening danger across the country but is also exploding the foster child population. Morgan County has also fallen prey to this national trend.
In 2018, the number of foster children in Morgan County nearly doubled in just one year, with over 50 Morgan County children in the foster care system.
Local leaders pointed out the connection to the opioid crisis.
Velde Hardy, director of Morgan County Family Connection and Cassondra Jones, director of Morgan County Department of Family and Children Services, confirmed that the 2018 spike in the number of foster children was primarily due to the prevalent drug abuse of parents.
“Even though the number of cases of substantiated cases of child abuse and/or neglect had decreased over the past few years, the number of children taken into foster care has nearly doubled in under a year,” said Hardy last summer. “This is mainly due to the increase of parental drug use within our local families.”
“A growing number of children are affected by parent’s use of heroin, cocaine, opioids, and other illegal drugs. Incidents of other types of child abuse and neglect such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect have not increased significantly,” explained Jones.
The latest data revealing millions of prescription opioid pills flooding Morgan County is just another troubling sign of the opioid epidemic’s prevalancy.
The information compiled by the Washington Post is just the latest spotlight thrust upon this growing epidemic.
“The Post believes this is a critically important set of data, which is why we are making it public and accessible to readers and other journalists,” wrote the Washington Post editorial board. “We think there are hundred of stories within this data set and need your help to understand what it means to you and your community.”
To find out how prevalent prescription pain pills are in your area: visit www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/dea-pain-pill-database.