DEA tracked every opioid pill sold in the US. The data is out—and it’s horrific


Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.

As the epidemic surged over the seven-year period, so did the supply. The companies increased distribution from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012, a jump of roughly 50%. In all, the deluge of pills was enough to supply every adult and child in the country with around 36 opioid pills per year. Just a 10-day supply can hook 1 in 5 people into being long-term users, researchers have determined.

The stunning supply figures were first reported by the Washington Post and come from part of a database compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracked the fate of every opioid pill sold in America, from manufacturers to individual pharmacies. A federal court in Ohio released the data this week as part of a massive consolidated court case against nearly two-dozen opioid makers and distributors, brought by nearly 2,000 cities, towns, and counties. The local governments allege that the opioid companies conspired to saturate the country with the potent painkillers to soak up billions in profits. The companies deny the allegations, arguing generally that they were serving the needs of patients.

According to an analysis of the data by the Post, just three companies made 88% of the opioid pills: SpecGx, Actavis Pharma, and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals. Purdue Pharma ranked fourth, making 3% of the pills. Just six companies distributed 75% of the pills: McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS, and Walmart.

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