BILLINGS – Yellowstone County saw 38 million opioid pills move through pharmacies and into patients’ hands between 2006 and 2012, according to new data uncovered by The Washington Post.
The portion in Yellowstone County — which boasts two of the state’s largest hospitals — was the largest in Montana, which saw 245 million prescription pills statewide during the same period.
This new data was released as part of the efforts of The Washington Post and The Charleston Gazette-Mail of West Virginia to sift through 380 million transactions compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration in that six-year period.
The media outlets sifted through information on shipments of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to compile the information.
MTN News took that information one step further to sift through Montana’s opioid data from 2006 to 2012, learning there were nearly 245 million prescription pills distributed to Montana pharmacies.
The highest number of prescription pills came to the Walgreens pharmacy in Kalispell with 4.1 million. The second highest in Montana was the Butte CVS pharmacy with 3 million followed by Walgreens in Missoula also with 3 million prescription pills distributed.
Countywide, after Yellowstone, Flathead County was next on the list with 32 million pills. Then came Missoula County with 29 million, Cascade County with 24 million, Lewis and Clark County with 15 million, Gallatin County with 13 million and Butte-Silver Bow with 11 million.
The research also shed some light on drug overdose deaths in Montana. The US Centers for Disease Control says that, statistically-speaking, Montana has not seen an increase in the overdose death rate from 2016 to 2017.
Still, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reports for every 100 Montanans, there are 83 painkiller prescriptions written annually across the state.
Across the United States, drug overdose deaths claim the lives of 70,000 people in 2017, according to a government drug abuse tracking website.
Health officials in Montana say overdose drug deaths are on the rise nationally and are the third leading cause of injury-related to death in Montana.
Still, the rate of opioid overdose deaths in Montana remains just below the national average with a rate or 5.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
Also discovered in the Washington Post data was the top opioid distributor in Montana, McKesson Corporation.
The pharmaceutical company is based in San Francisco with a revenue of $208 billion last year, and, according to its site, ranked seventh on the Fortune 500 list.
MTN News also took a look at neighboring states. In Idaho, 384 million prescription pills were distributed during the six-year time period. In Wyoming, it was 126 million, and North Dakota had 89 million pills.
The full Washington Post article can be found here.
The data release was a result of a years-long battle by the media organizations to access the data, which the government and drug industry wanted to keep secret.
-Andrea Lutz reporting for MTN News