52 Pills Per Person

Data shows Lane County has been awash in prescription opioids

At the height of the prescription drug crisis a decade ago, Lane County pharmacies dispensed enough opioid pain medication to give 52 pills each year to every single man, woman, child and infant in the county.

That’s one of the takeaways from data obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Post released a massive database charting opioid prescriptions filled between 2006 and 2012.

The national prescription opioid epidemic is still leading an average of five Oregonians per week to die of opioid overdose. Oregon has one of the highest levels of opioid misuse in the country.

With a population of more than 374,000 residents, Lane County received 128 million opioid pain pills from 2006 to 2012, the data shows. 

The store that stood out the most in numbers in the county was Bi-Mart. Its pharmacy in Springfield received almost 7 million opioid pills. Two Bi-Marts in Eugene received about 3 million opioid pills each. 

A single Safeway pharmacy in Cottage Grove received 4 million pills during that period.

Neither Safeway nor Bi-Mart would comment directly on the data to Eugene Weekly.

Andrew Whelan, Safeway’s director of internal communications, sent EW a press release from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

“Every day, pharmacists face a moment of truth when presented with an opioid prescription, making decisions as a provider of patient care and as part of the solution to the opioid-abuse epidemic. Patients understand that community pharmacy is part of the solution, providing trusted advice and quality healthcare services,” it read.

Bi-Mart did not respond to EW’s phone calls or emails for comment.

The numbers are staggering but not surprising, says Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and epidemiologist from the Oregon Health Authority. They correspond to the data the OHA already had, he said.

The period from 2006 to 2012 is significant because, during that time, opioids were at their peak as alternatives for pain killers, says Joe Schnabel, executive director of the Oregon Board of Pharmacy.

But in the past five years, Schnabel said, people started paying attention to overdoses and opioid addiction.

Lane County still has a high number of opioid prescription fills. For every 1,000 residents, 201 prescriptions were filled, according to OHA data for the first quarter of 2019. The number is higher than the state average, which has 158 prescriptions per 1,000 residents.

While the Lane County prescription number is higher than the state average, it is decreasing. In 2012, Lane County had 271 prescriptions filled for every 1,000 residents.

According to federal law, both the clinician who prescribes and the pharmacist who fills the prescription can be held responsible for any misconduct.

“The responsibility for the proper prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances is upon the prescribing practitioner, but a corresponding responsibility rests with the pharmacist who fills the prescription,” Code 1306.14 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations reads.

Jeanne says he is hopeful the epidemic will be brought under control. The number of patients receiving opioids dropped 61 percent in the span of five years, he said, and overdose deaths also decreased.

But according to the numbers, there’s still a long way to go.