DEA agents discover another small town in America's Rust Belt with an overabundance of opioids
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last week conducted inspections at several pharmacy locations in the Clay County, Tennessee town of Celina, following a massive spike of painkiller purchases from drug distribution companies.
According to the sales data, obtained by the DEA, several pharmacies purchased nearly 1.5 million pills in 2017, a number that is considered an anomaly of a rural area in America's Rust Belt region.
Home to just 7,800 people, the pharmacies last year purchased enough opioids to provide 270 pain pills for every man, woman, and child living in the small Tennessee town.
In response to the opioid crisis, the DEA is now aggressively monitoring supply chains of pill distributors that primarily feed into hard-hit states.
"DEA's action today is one of many proactive measures we are taking to help prevent drug diversion, abuse, and trafficking that end lives and destroy families and communities," said Louisville Division Special Agent in Charge Chris Evans, who runs DEA operations in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
"When DEA sees abnormal patterns such as this one, we must act. Too many rural communities like Clay County are often targets for both addicts and drug traffickers who exploit the most vulnerable and who profit from addiction. We've lost too many Americans to opioid abuse," Evans said.
Notice of inspection was issued to Anderson Hometown Pharmacy, LLC at 151 MacArthur Avenue, and Walgreens at 1000 Gainesville Highway. The DEA said an administrative inspection warrant was also issued to another pharmacy, Clay County Express Pharmacy, LLC at 651 Brown Street. Some of these inspections included a complete review of receipts and distributions, employee interviews, and all other pharmacy activities.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that drug overdose deaths in 2017 were up 7% from 2016 and that more than 72,000 American died the previous year -- that is more than American soldier deaths in the Vietnam War (58,220 US military fatal casualties). This is a more than 200% increase over a decade. Of those overdose deaths, just over 49,000 were from synthetic opioids, which include prescription painkillers, heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogs. Pain management, then pill abuse, is often the starting point for heroin and fentanyl addicts.
Days ago, we reported a similar incident in Williamson, West Virginia, where two pharmacies just four blocks apart pumped 20.8 million prescription painkillers in a town of only 3,191 residents.
It was reported that in December 2002 to January 2010, more than 335,000 prescriptions for painkillers were issued by Dr. Katherine Hoover at a small clinic in the struggling West Virginia town, a rate of about 130 per day.
Williamson is a small blue-collar city of some 3,000 residents just across the Tug Fork River from Kentucky. When the coal industry collapsed, it left behind many miners - many of whom were already reliant on painkillers.
However, like Williamson, Clay County is similar, both areas are located in America's Rust Belt, where de-industrialization and high unemployment fuels the deadly cycle of addiction.
Now, these lost and forgotten towns in the Rust Belt are being pumped with record amounts of opioids by large pharmaceutical firms, who then in return, have local doctors and pharmacies dish out painkillers to residents.
Yet while the DEA is finally cracking down on opioid abuse, the one question left is: why did the government allow pharmaceutical companies and pill mills to pump millions of highly addictive opioids into the Rust Belt in the first place?