Two pharmacies in Paintsville ranked number one and number four across the entire state of Kentucky for opioid shipments between 2006 and 2012, according to data from the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and processed by The Washington Post this week.
In all, local pharmacies were supplied enough opioid painkillers between 2006 and 2012 to provide every man, woman and child in Johnson County with more than 152 pills annually, the Post’s report said.
According to the data, Value-Med Inc. of Paintsville led the state across that seven-year period by receiving 10,449,480 prescription pain pills, and was the only pharmacy to break 10 million pain pills. Behind it are a Louisville pharmacy at 9.6 million units, a Prestonsburg pharmacy at 9.2 million units, and the Medicine Cabinet pharmacy, also of Paintsville, at 9,183,940 units.
A representative with Value-Med declined to comment on the data, and the pharmacist of the Medicine Cabinet was not available as of presstime Friday.
The Washington Post’s parsing of ARCOS data shows other pharmacies in Paintsville were shipped pain medications in far lower numbers, including Walmart Pharmacy at 1.4 million pills, Rite-Aid at 846,000 pills and Mountain Apothecary at 641,000 pills.
Data more recent than 2012 is harder to pin down. The Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system only shows sums of opioid painkillers prescribed since the fourth quarter of 2017. Across 2018, KASPER data shows, 2,572,797 opioid pain pills were prescribed to Johnson County residents, a figure below the nearly 3.2 million annual average that The Washington Post’s data shows pharmacies received in the 2006 to 2012 period. The first quarter of 2019, according to KASPER’s most recent data, saw 624,538 pain pills prescribed in Johnson County.
Paintsville Police Chief Mike Roe said that the pill issue is “still a problem,” despite the slow decline.
“We’ve done a lot of work here helping eliminate the doctors doing the overprescribing,” Roe said. He pointed to the charges brought against Dr. Sai Gutti, whose office in Paintsville was among those investigated by the DEA and state attorney general’s office with cooperation from PPD.
Mayor Bill Mike Runyon echoed those sentiments.
“It’s hard to blame the pharmacy when they get a prescription from a doctor,” Runyon said.
The biggest problem, Roe said, is overdose deaths, which were all-too-common at the height of the pill epidemic, and are now climbing again due to methamphetamine and heroin coming into the area laced with fentanyl, an extremely potent painkiller.
“I would say, to these addicts who are doing this, at least stay away from the (fentanyl),” Roe said. “It will kill you.”
Efforts to deal with the problem continue in the community.
“We’re making a concerted effort,” Mayor Runyon said. “It’s not lack of trying. These things just take time and effort.”
Mary Beth Castle and Christi Heller with the Johnson County Health Department said this week they are less concerned with assigning blame and more concerned with the reverberations the crisis has had with healthcare in Eastern Kentucky. Prescription opioid addicts, they said, have at times resorted to liquefying and injecting the active ingredients of the pain pills, which comes with all the consequences of any other intravenous drug abuse.
“Most people when we think of taking a pill, we think of taking it orally,” Castle said. “They will change its state to a liquid and inject it, and that leads to multiple health issues when they start to share syringes.”
“It’s definitely increased cases of Hepatitis C,” Heller said.
Castle said the department is gearing up to renew efforts to promote a needle exchange program in an attempt to curb the infectious disease problem.
Editor’s note: The data from the ARCOS system used in this report was provided courtesy The Washington Post. Further local data may be viewed by visiting, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/dea-pain-pill-database/?utm_term=.34cd7a65f354#download-resources.