Opinions abound regarding who all should be held accountable for the surge in opioid addictions and subsequent overdoses in our country. Yes, heroin is leading the pack at the moment, but there were several years leading up to this where painkillers containing substances like oxycodone and hydrocodone were the major culprits, and they are still a major part of the problem today.
A lot of finger-pointing has occurred as to whose fault it was for the number of people becoming dependent. Many place the blame directly on the pharmaceutical companies for the manufacturing and marketing of the drugs. Some people find fault with the doctors who have been over-prescribing the painkillers, although most people only blame the addicts themselves. In truth, these are all correct, but there is another missing element in between the manufacturers, doctors and patients – the pharmacies.
Checks and balances are the framework of our government as well as most businesses and within the health care system. The idea is that one person cannot make sweeping decisions without first consulting or getting approval from a separate entity. This is done to ensure the safety and effectiveness of any decision. For instance, pharmacists make sure that the patient knows how to take their medicine, or alert them if their doctor prescribes them something that may interfere or be dangerous with another medication the person is already taking. Businesses that distribute prescription drugs receive orders from pharmacies and are supposed to alert authorities if a pharmacy is ordering too large quantities for what they need.
However, the checks and balances have failed in places like West Virginia. The state has struggled with the opiate crisis for many years, and they have several counties that lead in prescription overdose death rates. But this is not surprising when one looks at the number of painkillers they had been receiving.
For instance, a pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia ordered 9 million prescription painkiller pills in two years. This pharmacy is located in a town that has 392 residents. This should have set alarm bells off with the distributor, but instead of flagging it as suspicious, they continued to send the pills.
The amount of money being made on these pills may be what compels distributors to look the other way when pharmacies start ordering excessive quantities of the drugs. According to an investigation conducted by reporters at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, three drug companies (McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen) made over $17 billion from West Virginian pharmacies from 2007 to 2012.
“It starts with doctor writing, the pharmacist filling, and the wholesaler distributing. They’re all three in bed together. The distributors knew what was going on, they just didn’t care,” claimed a retired West Virginian pharmacist.
Prescription drug companies have continued to profit off of the painkiller epidemic that is sweeping throughout the country, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over time. Although it is difficult to point the finger at only one entity, what happened in West Virginia highlights the importance of maintaining an honest system that monitors the prescriptions as well as the people filling them.