By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily
Drug makers distributed nearly 126.7 million painkillers in Wyoming between 2006 to 2012, according to a federal prescription database recently made public.
That includes hydrocodone, which goes under the name brands of Vicodin and Lortab, and oxycodone, which goes under the name brand of OxyContin.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database is being used in litigation by more than 2,000 entities such as state governments, local governments, tribes, labor unions and hospital systems – including several in Wyoming – in a federal courtroom in Cleveland. The litigation alleges drug manufacturers and distributors aggressively marketed the medicines, downplayed their addictive tendencies and created an opioid scourge that’s become a national epidemic.
The Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia successfully fought to make the information public, and the Post created a searchable database — from which the Wyoming data was pulled.
The following describes prescription opioids sent to each Wyoming county between 2006 and 2012:
|Albany||4.5 million pills||18 pills per person each year.|
|Big Horn||3.7 million pills||45 pills per person each year.|
|Campbell||10.6 million pills||35 pills per person each year.|
|Carbon||3.1 million pills||28 pills per person each year.|
|Converse||2.9 million pills||31 pills per person each year.|
|Crook||250,100 pills||5 pills per person each year.|
|Fremont||7.8 million pills||28 pills per person each year.|
|Goshen||2.2 million pills||25 pills per person each year.|
|Hot Springs||1.8 million pills||53 pills per person each year.|
|Johnson||1.2 million pills||21 pills per person each year.|
|Laramie||20 million pills||32 pills per person each year.|
|Lincoln||3.9 million pills||32 pills per person each year.|
|Natrona||20.4 million pills||39 pills per person each year.|
|Niobrara||421,800 pills||25 pills per person each year.|
|Park||10.3 million pills||53 pills per person each year.|
|Platte||2.2 million pills||35 pills per person each year.|
|Sheridan||7.1 million pills||35 pills per person each year.|
|Sublette||1.5 million pills||23 pills per person each year.|
|Sweetwater||9 million pills||30 pills per person each year.|
|Teton||3.3 million pills||22 pills per person each year.|
|Uinta||5.8 million pills||40 pills per person each year.|
|Washakie||3.1 million pills||54 pills per person each year.|
|Weston||1.6 million pills||32 pills per person each year.|
Several Wyoming governments are involved in separate litigation over opioids, including the state, Carbon County, Rock Springs, Green River, Casper, Cheyenne, and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court.
The plaintiffs in all of the lawsuits argue that drug treatment has cost them millions of dollars through Medicaid and community treatment facilities. Many people, hooked on prescription opioids, have turned to street drugs – including fentanyl-laced heroin. Some have overdosed and some have died— including nearly 50,000 across the U.S. in just 2017 alone.
State Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said he was pleased to see the state taking action in the face of large distribution numbers.
“Much of the responsibility lies with the pharmaceutical companies who marketed aggressively, unaware or intentionally ignorant of the consequences,” he said in an email. “We can some things legislatively, but I am pleased to see that the state is pursuing the matter in the courts as well. If legislation doesn’t achieve the desired goal, maybe hitting them in the pocket, where it counts, will.”
Wyoming’s case is pending in district court in Laramie County, where OxyContin maker Perdue Pharma wants it dismissed. The state is opposing the motion.
Michael Pearlman, spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon, said this week that the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office is waiting for the district court to rule on dismissal.
“In the meantime, the court entered a scheduling order, including among other things, discovery deadlines which the AGs office is following,” he said in an email.
According to filings, the case is expected to continue at least through 2020.
The lawsuits filed by Wyoming cities and tribes are in federal court, all consolidated in U.S. District Judge Dan Polster’s Ohio courtroom. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and other drug distribution companies have offered a $10 billion settlement in lawsuits filed by the various states. A group representing some plaintiffs countered with $45 billion.
Drug makers haven’t yet begun settlements with the plaintiffs in federal court in Ohio, but the judge is pushing for the parties to settle soon to end all the suits and help set aside money for drug treatment and prevention. Perdue Pharma separately settled with Oklahoma for $270 million.
Pearlman, Gordon’s spokesman, said opioids aren’t just an addict’s problem. Their families and communities are affected too.
“It causes extra burdens on our law enforcement agencies and first responders,” he said.