For the first time, a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States — by manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city — has been made public.
The Washington Post sifted through nearly 380 million transactions from 2006 through 2012 that are detailed in the DEA’s database and analyzed shipments of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, which account for three-quarters of the total opioid pill shipments to pharmacies. The Post is making this data available at the county and state levels in order to help the public understand the impact of years of prescription pill shipments on their communities.
These records provide an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths during the seven-year time frame ending in 2012.
A county-level analysis of the cumulative data shows where the most oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed across the country over that time: more than 76 billion in all.
Number of pills distributed per person, per year
Average yearly total, by county, 2006 through 2012
The Post gained access to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS, as the result of a court order. The Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, waged a year-long legal battle for access to the database, which the government and the drug industry had sought to keep secret.
The version of the database published by The Post allows readers to learn how much hydrocodone and oxycodone went to individual states and counties, and which companies and distributors were responsible.
Find the data for where you live
• From 2006 to 2012 there were 75,463,660 prescription pain pills, enough for 22 pills per person per year, supplied to Chester County, Pa.
•15,963,540 of the pills were distributed by Cardinal Health and 35,912,800 were manufactured by SpecGx LLC.
•GATEWAY PHARMACY, PHOENIXVILLE pharmacy received the highest number of pills.
The Post believes this is a critically important set of data, which is why we are making it public and accessible to readers and other journalists. We think there are hundreds of stories within this data set and need your help to understand what it means to you and your community. Want to use this data or our findings in your own work? Click here to find out how.