So, turns out that in the midst of the miserable red state opioid epidemic that has cost thousands of lives and ruined tens of thousands more in states like West Virginia that there's no better drug pushers than the legal, corporate ones.
Follow the pills and you'll find the overdose deaths.
The trail of painkillers leads to West Virginia's southern coalfields, to places like Kermit, population 392. There, out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 9 million highly addictive — and potentially lethal — hydrocodone pills over two years to a single pharmacy in the Mingo County town.
Rural and poor, Mingo County has the fourth-highest prescription opioid death rate of any county in the United States.
The trail also weaves through Wyoming County, where shipments of OxyContin have doubled, and the county's overdose death rate leads the nation. One mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana received 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore just eight blocks away.
In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers, a Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation found.
Yep, it seems that nearly 20% of all OxyContin, hyrdrocodone, and other painkillers shipped by the nation's three largest drug distribution companies ended up in West Virginia.
Nearly twenty percent. Just to West Virginia.
Let that sink in.
While the death toll climbed, drug wholesalers continued to ship massive quantities of pain pills.
Mingo, Logan and Boone counties received the most doses of hydrocodone — sold under brand names such as Lortab, Vicodin and Norco — on a per-person basis in West Virginia. Wyoming and Raleigh counties scooped up OxyContin pills by the tens of millions.
The nation's three largest prescription drug wholesalers — McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug Co. — supplied more than half of all pain pills statewide.
For more than a decade, the same distributors disregarded rules to report suspicious orders for controlled substances in West Virginia to the state Board of Pharmacy, the Gazette-Mail found. And the board failed to enforce the same regulations that were on the books since 2001, while giving spotless inspection reviews to small-town pharmacies in the southern counties that ordered more pills than could possibly be taken by people who really needed medicine for pain.
As the fatalities mounted — hydrocodone and oxycodone overdose deaths increased 67 percent in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012 — the drug shippers' CEOs collected salaries and bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars. Their companies made billions. McKesson has grown into the fifth-largest corporation in America. The drug distributor's CEO was the nation's highest-paid executive in 2012, according to Forbes.
In court cases, the companies have repeatedly denied they played any role in the nation's pain-pill epidemic.
The laws were there. They were never enforced. The drug distributors got rich. Thousands died. This is a massive scandal, period.
Now imagine how bad this will be under the Trump FDA, which wants to eliminate "job-killing regulations" on Big Pharma, and would remain in charge of enforcing what regulations would be left on the books.
And please note, this was a local city newspaper that broke this story wide open, not a national paper, not a online outlet, not a non-profit, but a local hometown paper.
But the problem is still economic anxiety, right?