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1.4 billion opioid pills prescribed in Oklahoma

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In Jefferson County, an annual average of 92 pain pills per person was pumped into the rural county near the Texas border between the years of 2006 and 2012, one of the highest rates in the region during a time when the opioid epidemic spread across the country.

During that same period more than 1.4 billion pills were prescribed across the state, enough each year for 54 pills per Oklahoman, the sixth-highest rate in the nation.

Data from the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracks every pain pill in the United States was recently made public.

The Washington Post compiled that data into a county-level map and state ranking, which showed counties in southeastern Oklahoma with some of the state’s highest rates.

“We have a lot of blue-collar work going on down here, so we do see a little more of those injuries that require pain management,” said Janis Cravatt, director of the Tri-County Opioid Project in southeast Oklahoma.

“I think people are becoming more aware (of the danger) but there is still a huge gap in knowledge. People may be saying, ‘Yeah, I know opioids are bad, but what do I do in place of that?’”

Oklahoma experienced more than 6,100 prescription opioid-related deaths from 2000-2017.

Oklahoma has drawn national attention for the past several weeks as a trial pitting the state against Johnson & Johnson, a manufacturer of opioids, came to a close Monday.

State Attorney General Mike Hunter has accused Johnson & Johnson of creating an opioid crisis in the state by aggressively marketed the pills.

“This company collaborated, conspired with other opioid manufacturers to shape, I’ll say distort, policy and decisions around prescribing in this country for the last two decades by engaging known opinion leaders in a very effective way,” Hunter said Monday.

Johnson & Johnson has denied wrongdoing.

Opioid manufacturers face other lawsuits, including in federal court in Ohio as nearly 2,000 cities and counties are suing about two dozen companies.

The Washington Post reported that just six companies distributed 75% of all pills: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart.

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›