'Statistics are a blow to country’s biggest pharmaceuticals that paid millions of dollars in out of court settlements'
'Drug makers and distributors flooded the US with more than 75bn opioid pills in the crucial years when the country’s epidemic of painkiller addiction and deaths surged to record levels, according to previously secret data released by an American court.
The publication of the Drug Enforcement Administration statistics is a blow to some of the country’s biggest pharmaceutical firms that have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in out of court settlements in part to keep sealed evidence that they profiteered from escalating demand for opioids even as public health officials were declaring an epidemic.
The database covers 2006 to 2012 when opioid prescriptions reached a peak of 282m a year, enough to supply every American adult with a month’s worth of pills. By then, annual sales of narcotic painkillers had surged past $8bn.
US district judge Dan Polster, in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, is hearing about 2,000 civil cases brought by cities and counties coast-to-coast against opioid makers and distributors, wrapped into a giant case known as a multi-district litigation.
He ordered the release of the data following a year-long legal battle by newspaper companies the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, the state worst hit by the opioid epidemic, and the Washington Post.
Deliveries of the two most common opioids, hydrocodone and oxycodone, escalated by more than 50% in the years covered by the database, to 12.6bn pills in 2012 alone, an analysis of the DEA numbers by the Washington Post found.
By then the federal agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had declared a public health crisis because of the surging death toll from overdoses. Some of the largest increases in sales were to parts of the country already devastated by opioids.'
Read more: Drug makers flooded US with billions of opioid pills as epidemic surged, data shows