It took three years, but journalists from the Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia were successful on lifting a protective order on a government database – which drug companies tried to keep hidden. The database has revealed how tens of billions of opioid painkillers flooded communities, including Adams County. A federal judge unsealed the database last month.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System (ARCOS) reveals that the country’s largest pharmaceutical companies distributed 76 billion OxyContin and Vicodin pills between 2006 and 2012. In fact, the numbers are so staggering that enough pills to supply every adult & child in the country with 36 each year were prescribed.
In in Adams County, from 2006 to 2012, there were 12,172,090 prescription pain pills, enough for 61 pills per person, per year supplied to Adams County residents, according to the data compiled by the Washington Post. According to the data, Adams County wasn’t the highest in the area per capita. In Scioto County there enough 68 pills available per person per year and Pike County came in at 53 pills per person.
“The database reveals what each company knew about the number of pills it was shipping and dispensing and precisely when they were aware of those volumes, year by year, town by town,” the Post reports.
ARCOS was kept secret until the Post released its report, despite multiple lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies which contributed to the opioid epidemic. The DEA and Department of Justice joined pharmaceutical giants in pushing for the database to be kept secret, arguing its release could compromise ongoing investigations into the causes of the epidemic.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster lifted the protective order on ARCOS after the two newspapers’ Freedom of Information Act request was denied by the DEA. Polster is currently presiding over the largest civil action in U.S. history, with about 2,000 cities, towns, and counties suing pharmaceutical companies for their alleged contributions to the opioid crisis.