It is well-established that the nation’s opioid epidemic has escalated to a public health crisis, with nearly 100,000 recorded fatal overdoses between 2006 and 2012. This has prompted the filing of thousands of lawsuits by plaintiffs who claim big pharma companies fueled the epidemic through deceitful marketing that minimized the addictive nature of opioids.
As part of a Multi-District Litigation (MDL) in Cleveland, Ohio, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) data has been released to the public, revealing the sheer scale to which opioids are being manufactured and distributed in the U.S. The MDL consists of 2,000 towns, cities, and counties that have filed lawsuits against 20 opioid manufacturers and distributers for their role in the crisis.
Between 2006 and 2012, at the height of the epidemic, 76 billion opioid pills were sold in the U.S. During this time, 88 percent of opioid pills were manufactured by one of just three big pharmaceutical drug makers:
- Mallinckrodt – 29 billion opioids sold
- Actavis – 26.5 billion opioids sold
- Endo – 11 billion opioids sold
Though Purdue Pharma only accounted for about three percent of the market, ranking fourth among manufacturers, it has drawn widespread criticism for allegedly sparking the epidemic through the introduction of OxyContin in the 1990s.
On the distribution side, around half of pills were distributed by another three pharma companies:
- McKesson – 14.1 billion opioids distributed
- Walgreens – 16 billion opioids distributed
- Cardinal Health – 10.7 billion opioids distributed.
Additional data released includes the average number of pills distributed per person per year in every county in the U.S. This could help to funnel a larger portion of eventual settlement money into areas that have been most affected by the epidemic. In Massachusetts, Dukes, Hampden, and Berkshire Counties fared the worst, each averaging over 35 opioids distributed per person annually.
The data could also serve to be valuable in strengthening plaintiffs’ claim that the blame for the epidemic should lie on manufacturers and distributors, which have frequently tried to blame doctors and pharmacies who overprescribe opioids and even on victims themselves for abusing them.