LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — With about 200 drug overdose deaths in our country every day, many say the opioid epidemic is the worst domestic crisis in a lifetime.
13 Investigates has new bombshell information that pharmaceutical companies never wanted you to know.
The disturbing information comes from a federal database maintained by the DEA. It shows exactly how many powerful pain pills were delivered to each pharmacy in every Nevada county for seven years. Click here for overall state data.
Drug makers and distributors wanted to keep the information sealed but a judge overruled that as local governments are suing over the impact addiction has had on public services.
In an exclusive interview with the attorney representing our Nevada counties and cities, we get a look at how damning the evidence is. He claims pharmaceutical makers failed to properly flag, investigate, stop and report suspicious orders to the DEA as required by law.
"The conduct these pharmaceutical companies and distributors have engaged in," says attorney Robert Eglet, "is no better than the conduct of a Central or South American drug cartel. They're doing the same thing."
Eglet says the devil is in the data. Proof that all the companies in the pain-pill supply chain knew most of the drugs were being diverted for illegal use and abused.
"Lincoln County is out in the middle of nowhere!" Eglet shouts. "There's nothing around it! And there's 5200 people living in the community and they're shipping 1.85 million dosage units of these drugs in there -- to one pharmacy! If that's not a clear sign diversion is going on, then I don't know what is. And this has been kept secret from the public for decades!" Click here to see Lincoln County data.
Eglet is also furious about newly released internal emails showing how corporate greed fueled profit over patients and proving companies knew for years the prescriptions they pumped into our communities are addictive.
Eglet points to an exchange between a pharmacy buyer and supplier from 2009:
"Keep 'em coming. Flying out of here. It's like people are addicted to these things or something. Oh wait. People are!'' writes the buyer.
The supplier responds, "Just like Doritos. Keep eating. We'll make more."
"That's how flippant they were about this," says Eglet.
Flippant language that came as many Nevada families were fighting for their loved ones. Families like the Engles.
"I knew something was really wrong," says Joe Engle. "When I went upstairs, I saw him laid out on the bed. He was gray. He wasn't breathing."
In July 2011, Joe lost his oldest son, Reese, to a drug overdose when Reese was only 19.
"A father's not supposed to bury his son." says Joe.
The federal database shows the numbers for Clark County. Between 2006 and 2012 "...these distributors and manufacturers shipped 1.3 billion pills into our county," explains Eglet. "There is no way our community could absorb all these pills. Even if every person had a prescription for it. Every person: man, woman and child. You couldn't do it. This is a clear sign that there is diversion going on with these pills." Click here to see Clark County data.
Diversion to a black market of addiction and death. Eglet says the time for accountability is now.
"There needs to be a day of reckoning for these pharmaceutical opiate manufacturers and distributors. They need to pay and compensate for the damages that they have devastated our communities with."
We reached out to the nearly dozen defendant companies in the Nevada lawsuits for a response.
Purdue Pharma declined to comment.
Cardinal Health provided the following statement:
“As we fulfill our limited and specific role in the closed supply chain, Cardinal Health is in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws, which includes reporting distribution data and orders of controlled substances deemed suspicious to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
As the ARCOS data demonstrates, Cardinal Health has consistently reported sales of opioid-based medications, along with the quantity of the order and the identity of the receiving pharmacy to the DEA. Until only very recently, Cardinal Health did not have access to the full set of data with information about the total shipment of opioid medicines a particular pharmacy received from other distributors. The DEA is the only entity to have had all of this data.
Cardinal Health has stopped suspicious orders for the shipment of hundreds of millions of dosage units of controlled substances over the last decade. We then report those suspicious orders to the DEA and to state boards of pharmacy, but we do not know, nor do we have any influence on, what these government entities do with those reports. Distributors have no law enforcement power and cannot stop physicians from writing prescriptions for medication nor take unilateral action to block DEA- and state-licensed pharmacies’ ability to dispense medication.
Cardinal Health shares the judgment of top policymakers that too many prescriptions have been written for too many opioid pills over the past decade. This is a direct reflection of the number of prescriptions written by healthcare providers and filled by licensed dispensers, neither of which wholesale distributors can influence. In response to the growing number of prescriptions, the DEA, which sets an annual production quota of the amount of opioids allowed to be manufactured, continuously raised the quota. From 2006 to 2014, the opioid quota rose 140%.
As always, we will continue our longstanding commitment to doing significant and important work on the opioid epidemic in communities. In fact, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the GenerationRx program, which with more than 100 pharmacy school chapters has reached 1.7 million people around the country with educational and training materials to prevent prescription drug misuse. The Cardinal Health Foundation has supported fighting prescription drug misuse and the opioid epidemic in other critical ways as well. We look forward to continuing these efforts as we work alongside others in the industry, government and healthcare to find solutions.”