Newly Released Federal Data Shines Light On Opioid Epidemic

by Wormington & Bollinger

Newly Released Federal Data Shines Light On Opioid Epidemic - Wormington & Bollinger

In July 2019, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster lifted the protective order from part of the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System, also known as ARCOS. This database has allowed the public all across the country the opportunity to better understand the cause of the U.S.’s opioid epidemic.

From information gathered from ARCOS, the public was shown that American’s largest drug companies filled the nation with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 to 2012. ARCOS details the path of every pain pill sold in America, tracking it from the manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in towns and cities across the nation.

Over the years 2006 to 2012, nearly 100,000 individuals died as a result of this epidemic.

Nearly 75% of all pills produced during this time were distributed by only six companies, including McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS, and Walmart, according to ARCOS. Just three companies produced 88% of all opioids in the country: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, subsidiarity of Endo Pharmaceuticals.

The Release Of Arcos

Up until now, the public was never allowed to see the size and scale behind this epidemic. The drug companies fought against the release of this information, stating it would give their competitors an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Even the DEA and the Justice Department argued against the database’s release, feeling that it would compromise the ongoing DEA investigations.

Previously, Judge Polster had only allowed the drug companies and the towns and cities involved in the ongoing litigation the opportunity to review the information on the ARCOS database. The Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail had inquired Polster to lift his protective order, which he denied.

Lawyers from both publications appealed Polster’s ruling, arguing that the ARCOS information would harm neither the companies nor the investigations. On June 20th, 2019, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio agreed with the news outlets, and a three-judge panel decided to reverse the previous protective order with reasonable redactions.

Later in July, Polster finally lifted the protective order, allowing the public and media access to important information regarding the opioid epidemic.

Important Details Learned From Arcos

As the opioid epidemic began to grow, the quantity of pills produced and handled by drug companies drastically grew, increasing by almost 51% from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion by 2012.

These companies are now being sued in a Cleveland federal court by almost 2,000 cites, towns, and counties in the U.S. that blame drug companies for conspiring to overflow the nation with opioids. However, the companies have in turn pointed blame at doctors and pharmacies for overprescribing and on consumers who abuse the drugs. The companies claim they were merely working to supply patients with legitimate prescription needs.

Under federal law, drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies must report each transaction of any narcotic to the DEA, which is then recorded into the ARCOS database. Company officials must report any drug orders that appear suspicious because of their size or frequency to the DEA. The shipments must also be held back. However, only a handful of orders were ever flagged

The data collected in ARCOS is incredibly thorough. ARCOS includes the name, DEA registration number, address, and business activity of every seller and buyer of a controlled substance in the nation.

“The data provides statistical insights that help pinpoint the origins and spread of the opioid epidemic — an epidemic that thousands of communities across the country argue was both sparked and inflamed by opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies,” said Paul T. Farrell Jr. of West Virginia, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

Nearly half of all pills were distributed by three companies, including McKesson dispensing 14.1 billion, Walgreens with 12.6 billion, and Cardinal Health with 10.7 billion. Nearly 38% of the entire market was manufactured by Mallinckrodt’s SpecGx.

In the span from 2006 to 2012, enough pills were dispensed to supply every person, adult or child, in the country with 36 pills each year.

Beginning Of An Epidemic

The opioid epidemic began almost 30 years ago when Purdue Pharma introduced their opioid call OxyContin, which they deemed was far less addictive than traditional oxycodone. Purdue Pharma would pay doctors and nonprofit groups to advertise the use of OxyContin to patients suffering from severe pain, helping to push the drug into the market as a safe, effective treatment for pain.

Unfortunately, this new drug was highly addictive. As the number of addicted people grew, so did the number of manufacturers of pain pills.

Purdue eventually ended up paying a fine of $634 million to the Food and Drug Administration for their false claim that OxyContin was less addictive than other pain pills.

Following this case, the annual profit for opioids increased from $6.1 billion in 2006 to $8.5 billion in 2012.

These companies have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, promising to better track and monitor any suspicious activity in their shipments. However, the fines they paid paled in comparison to the profit they are making. They continued to manufacture, ship, and disperse massive amounts of pain pills all across the country. If you or a loved one has been the victim of this opioid epidemic, contact the attorneys at Wormington & Bollinger today and let us fight for you.

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