The largest drug companies saturated the U.S. with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012 as the deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control, according to company data released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history, the Washington Post reports. The information comes from a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the U.S. from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city. The data provides an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which has resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths from 2006 through 2012.
Just six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills during this period: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart. Three companies manufactured 88 percent of the opioids: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals. Purdue Pharma, which the plaintiffs allege prompted the epidemic in the 1990s with its introduction of OxyContin, its version of oxycodone, was ranked fourth among manufacturers with about 3 percent of the market. The volume of the pills skyrocketed as the epidemic surged, increasing about 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. By contrast, doses of morphine, a well-known treatment for severe pain, averaged slightly more than 500 million a year during the period. The 10 companies along with about a dozen others are now being sued in federal court in Cleveland by nearly 2,000 cities, towns and counties alleging that they conspired to flood the nation with opioids. The companies blame the epidemic on overprescribing by doctors and pharmacies and on customers who abused the drugs. The companies say they were responding to the needs of patients with legitimate prescriptions desperate for pain relief.