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What 76 Billion Prescription Opioid Pills Illuminates About The Epidemic

Image of hydrocodone pills.
A new database from the Drug Enforcement Administration tracks the 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed from 2006 through 2012 in the United States.

The opioid epidemic has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the past few decades. A newly-released Drug Enforcement Administration database provides insight into how and why this might be happening. The database tracks 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed from 2006 through 2012, and new analysis from The Washington Post draws connections between the number of pills shipped to a particular area and opioid overdose deaths.

The expose reveals that Walgreens, Walmart, CVS and two other companies are responsible for distributing 75 percent of prescription opioids during this period, and 88 percent of the opioids were manufactured by just  three companies. The reporting also reveals a virtual “opioid belt” that encompasses more than 90 counties in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. Though North Carolina is not included, the reporting does identify hotspots in the state, including a pharmacy in the small Moore County town of Vass that received about 6.7 million pills in the seven year period.

Host Frank Stasio is joined by two reporters to talk about the database and what it illuminates about the opioid epidemic in North Carolina: Steven Rich is the database editor for investigations for The Washington Post and Jordan Hensley is a reporter with the Hickory Daily Record. Rich shares the fight to make this information public and Hensley provides insight into why Hickory is a hotspot for prescription opioid shipments.

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Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.