More than 20 million opioid pills flowed into Centre County over a 6-year period, data shows

While the impacts of the opioid epidemic on Centre County are ongoing, data analyzed and published last month by The Washington Post sheds light on the tens of millions of pain pills distributed to the county over a six-year period.

The database, which was maintained by the Drug Enforcement Agency, tracked the path of every opioid pain pill from manufacturer to pharmacy. More than 76 billion prescription pain pills were distributed by pharmaceutical companies during that period, according to the Post.

There were 20,382,708 prescription pain pills shipped to Centre County from 2006 to 2012 — enough for 19 pills per person per year, according to the Post’s data, which was published last month. During that period, there were 40 drug overdose deaths in the county, Centers for Disease Control public affairs officers Jeff Lancashire wrote in an email.

Still, Centre County had the third-fewest oxycodone and hydrocodone shipments in the state from 2006 to 2012, according to the Post.

Only Sullivan (14 pills per person per year) and Fulton (17 pills per person per year) counties received fewer pills per person per year than Centre County. Forest, Huntingdon and Union counties also received 19 pills per person per year.

Cambria County received the most pills (61) per person per year. The statewide average was 33 pills per person per year.

Sarah Kawasaki, the director of addictions services at the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute and assistant professor of psychiatry and internal medicine at Penn State Health, said opioid addiction has “destroyed a generation.”

“Much like folks who suffer from HIV, this affliction takes people in the prime of their lives,” Kawasaki said. “It means that there is a generation of kids who are either left without parents or dysfunctional parents. There is a workforce that is lacking in good productivity and productive citizens. There are people who are in the margins of society because of this illness.”

CVS Pharmacy in Philipsburg received the most pills from 2006 to 2012, followed by CVS Pharmacy in Bellefonte, Grattan’s Pharmacy in Philipsburg and Walmart in State College, according to the Post.

CVS’ Philipsburg and Bellefonte pharmacies regularly fill prescriptions for patients treated at four health care facilities, including Mount Nittany Medical Center and Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Nittany Valley, CVS senior corporate communications director Mike DeAngelis said.

In Bellefonte, nearly half of the company’s prescription volume is for patients living outside of Bellefonte. Less than 33% of the Philipsburg pharmacy’s prescription volume is for Philipsburg residents, DeAngelis said.

Opioid medications are a “small percentage” of the prescriptions dispensed by the pharmacies, DeAngelis said.

“We maintain stringent policies, procedures and tools to help ensure that our pharmacists properly exercise their professional responsibility to evaluate controlled substance prescriptions before filling them,” DeAngelis said. “Keep in mind that doctors have the primary responsibility to make sure the opioid prescriptions they write are for a legitimate purpose.”


Why is there not more recent data?

The DEA produced data from 2006 through 2014, but The Washington Post has not been able to get access to 2013 and 2014 data because of an ongoing court course in Ohio, the Post said.

The data is one additional piece that gets added to the “vast amounts” of information gathered by the county human services office, administrator Natalie Corman wrote in an email.

Treatment with medication is the most effective, Kawasaki said. The rate of relapse is upward of 90% for those who do not use medication to treat opioid addiction, she said.

“It’s all a little bit of a Greek tragedy and a product of group think. The pharmaceutical company doesn’t say they’re at fault and the distributor doesn’t say they’re at fault and the pharmacy doesn’t say they’re at fault and the physician doesn’t say they’re at fault and yet there are tons of people who are dead,” Kawasaki said. “It’s important to establish systems … to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.