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76 Billion Pills, 6 Companies And An Opioid Trial For The Ages

Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display in March 2016 in Norwich, CT.
John Moore/Getty Images
Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display in March 2016 in Norwich, CT.

A new Washington Post investigative report gives an unprecedented look at the opioid crisis — including which companies distributed billions of pills, and where.

Although data show that U.S. overdose deaths fell for the first time in more than three decades last year, fatalities have skyrocketed in communities where opioid pills are distributed frequently and in large quantities. This is especially true in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

Who’s responsible? From the report:

Newly unsealed documents in a landmark lawsuit Tuesday in Cleveland show the pressure within drug companies to sell opioids despite numerous red flags during the height of the epidemic.

The release of the exhibits — sworn depositions of executives, internal corporate emails and experts’ reports — also reveals the ignored concerns of some employees about the huge volume of pain pills streaming across the nation.

In one exhibit, emails show that a Purdue Pharma executive received an order from a distributor for 115,200 oxycodone pills, which was nearly twice as large as that distributor’s average order over the previous three months. The order came in at 4:15 p.m., according to the emails sent in October 2009.

It was approved one minute later.

In another of the exhibits, Nathan J. Hartle, vice president of regulatory affairs and compliance for McKesson, the nation’s largest drug distributor, was asked during a July 2018 deposition about the billions of oxycodone pills that the company had shipped nationwide.

Did McKesson accept partial responsibility for the societal costs?

“I think we’re responsible for something,” Hartle said. “I don’t know what — how you define all societal costs and — I still believe it depends on different circumstances.”

We take a look at the latest revelations with one of the reporters behind the investigation.

In the meantime, here‘s a visualization of the investigation’s findings, courtesy of The Post‘s graphics team.

Show produced by Stacia Brown.


Scott Higham, Investigative reporter, The Washington Post; @ScottHigham1

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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