Post research gives scale to opioid epidemic

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Former Courier-Times Editor Neal Rattican shared a Washington Post analysis with me last weekend that looks at the opioid epidemic in this country. The results of that analysis are more eye-opening than I thought they would be.

The Post study looks at opioid distribution patterns for every county in the country over a six-year period from 2006-12.

Because many opioids are prescribed legally for legitimate medical purposes, it has been more difficult for law enforcement officers to get to the root of the problem.

In Ohio, that state’s attorney general has sued five pharmaceutical companies for engaging in marketing strategies designed to downplay the addictive nature of opioids. The Ohio lawsuit follows a similar action by Mississippi’s attorney general. In some cases, those pharmaceutical companies were delivering staggering numbers of the pills to local pharmacies to be dispensed.

We hear often that Person County has a significant opioid problem. They are among the most popular drugs for illegal drug users right now, according to law enforcement officials. So how does Person County stack up?

Not too bad actually.

For the period reviewed in the study, Person County’s average distribution was 46.6 opioid pills per person per year. Compare that to Columbus County in southeastern North Carolina, where the distribution measured 113.5 pills per person per year. Closer to home, Vance County’s average opioid distribution between 2006 and 2012 was 71.9 pills per person per year, one of the highest numbers in the state.

North Carolina’s highest numbers were dwarfed by a string of counties in West Virginia and Kentucky. In one county alone – Mingo County, W. Va. – distribution averages during the same period were 203.5 pills per person, per year. Neighboring Logan County, W. Va. reported 179 pills per person, per year. And in Whitley County, Ky., on the state line with Tennessee, distribution was 187 pills per person per year.

Back in North Carolina, Person County’s numbers are notably higher than some of our neighboring counties. In Caswell County, for instance, an average of 16 pills per person, per year, was distributed between 2006 and 2012 and in Granville County, that number stood at 35.9

In Durham County, the number was 28.1 and in Orange County, distribution stood at 19.4 pills per person, per year.

I realize the data has some age on it. 2012 was seven long years ago and distribution patterns could certainly change. The illegal trafficking of opioids can mask the real size of the problem.

Anecdotal evidence is really just that, but Person County has endured a handful of deaths at the hands of opioid overdoses in recent years, but even that number has been fairly small. In 2005, there were five reported deaths due to opioid overdoses. In 2015, that number was just three. That’s a contrast to the statewide numbers, which increased by 73 percent over that 10-year period, from 642 in 2005 to 1,110 in 2015, according to statistics released from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.

So what does all this mean for Person County? There’s a right good number of opioid pills running through Person County. It bears watching, but Person County residents can be glad it’s no worse than it is.

To read the Post data report, visit here.

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