Not Mexican Drug Lords. Not MS-13. Not Illegal Immigrants: New Data Shows Drug Companies Flooded U.S. With 76 Billion Opioid Pain Pills

Written by Dana Sanchez
Eddie Davis stands at the grave of his son Jeremy, who died from opioid abuse. Newly released prescription opioid stats underscore the problem in towns of the Appalachian region. In Jackson County, 107 opioid pills per resident were distributed annually for seven+ years. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Just six U.S. companies distributed 75 percent of the legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic which resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths from 2006 through 2012.

A database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the U.S. from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies — including 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills that saturated the country from 2006 through 2012.

The previously undisclosed company data has been released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history.

The Washington Post analyzed the data and found that three companies manufactured 88 percent of the opioids during this period: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; ­Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals. Six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart.


Those 10 companies and about 12 others are being sued in federal court in Cleveland by nearly 2,000 towns, cities and counties alleging that they conspired to flood the U.S. with opioids. The companies blame doctors for overprescribing, customers for abusing the drugs, and the law of supply and demand.

The volume of the pills handled by the companies skyrocketed about 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012 as the epidemic grew, according to the Washington Post.

In 2007 Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that the company misled regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risk of addiction and abuse, The Guardian reported.

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Purdue, based in Connecticut, is owned by the Sackler family. Family members were not charged. The blockbuster prescription painkiller OxyContin was launched in 1996.

The Sackler family is known for its philanthropy. As litigation engulfs Purdue, “the effects may end up rippling all the way to the society circles and venerable arts and science institutions where the billionaires spend the proceeds,” Joanna Walters wrote for The Guardian:

“What some call philanthropy, others, such as Stanford University ethics professor Rob Reich, call ‘reputation laundering”.

“Greed is the main thing. The market for OxyContin should have been much, much smaller, but they wanted to have a $10 billion drug and they didn’t tell the truth about their product,” said Mike Moore, the former Mississippi attorney general, in a Guardian interview. Moore was one of the attorneys in litigation brought by several states against Purdue and other pharmaceutical firms, collectively named Big Pharma.

Drug corporations to date have paid nearly $500 million in fines to the Justice Department for failing to report and prevent suspicious drug orders, a small amount compared to the revenue of the companies, Washington Post reported.

Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Republican campaign ads worked hard linking crime to immigration, MS-13 and Mexican drug lords.

When the Washington Post story broke, Twitter followers vented anger over politicians trying to distract us by blaming crime on others while Big Pharma got rich fuelling the opioid epidemic.

“US drug companies. Not Mexican drug lords. Not MS-13. Not illegal immigrants.”

“It’s time to bankrupt big pharma and rebuild our country,” Jamaal Bowman tweeted.