Newly-revealed opioid database spotlights the need for Medicaid expansion in rural areas

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DEA database shows over 2.5 BILLION pain pills sold in NC from 2006-2012, mostly in rural areas represented by anti-Medicaid lawmakers

RALEIGH -- A new DEA database published by the Washington Post last week tracks each and every pain pill sold in the United States, giving us a precise look at exactly which communities are the hardest hit by the aggressive marketing of addictive pain medication.

The database shows that from 2006 to 2012, over 2.5 BILLION (with a B) prescription pain pills were sold in North Carolina, the majority by just two companies -- Cardinal Health and SpecGx LLC. However, the counties where the most pain pills were sold per capita are all rural: 

  1. Columbus (113 pills sold per person, per year)
  2. Surry (81 pills/person/year)
  3. Mitchell (78 pills/person/year)
  4. Cherokee (77 pills/person/year)
  5. Richmond (75 pills/person/year)
  6. Scotland (74 pills/person/year)
  7. Vance (72 pills/person/year)
  8. Rockingham (70 pills/person/year)
  9. Burke (68 pills/person/year)
  10. Lenoir (63 pills/person/year)

Why is this database important? For one thing, it shows the pipeline which opioid manufacturers use to funnel addictive pain pills into our communities, incentivizing doctors and pharmacies to over-prescribe the drug in order to keep their customer base hooked.

For another, it puts a spotlight on the urgent need to expand Medicaid and bring affordable health care access to rural districts which are largely represented by Republicans. If someone cannot afford quality health care in order to treat an injury or illness, they’re more likely to self-medicate with addictive drugs like opiates. Medicaid expansion would also help low-income people access drug treatment services, making it easier for people who are hooked on opiates to stop using.

“Opioid manufacturers are making a killing -- literally -- by funneling addictive pain pills into poor, rural communities in our state,” said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC Action. “By refusing to expand Medicaid, GOP lawmakers are essentially voting to prolong the opioid crisis by making it harder for people -- including some of their own constituents -- to get the affordable health care and drug treatment they need.”

Two of the top 10 counties (Rockingham and Surry) are represented by Senate leader Phil Berger. Two more counties (Richmond and Scotland) are represented by Republican Sen. Tom McInnis. Here is the full list, along with the number of residents in each county who would gain health coverage from Medicaid expansion as well as the number of jobs and economic impact that would be created in each county

  1. Columbus County
    Represented by: Sen. Danny Britt (R), Rep. Carson Smith (R), Rep. Brendan Jones (R)
    Number of opioid pills sold per person, per year (2006-12): 113

    Medicaid expansion would give affordable health care access to over 4,000 Columbus County residents by 2022, in addition to creating 230 new jobs and $31 million in economic impact.

  2. Surry County
    Represented by: Sen. Phil Berger (R), Sen. Deanna Ballard (R), Rep. Kyle Hall (R), Rep. Sarah Stevens (R)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 81

    Over 5,600 Surry County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 240 new jobs and $49 million in economic impact.

  3. Mitchell County
    Represented by: Sen. Ralph Hise (R), Rep. Josh Dobson (R)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 78

    Medicaid expansion would give affordable health care access to about 880 Mitchell County residents by 2022, and create 47 new jobs and $8 million in economic impact.

  4. Cherokee County 
    Represented by: Sen. Jim Davis (R), Rep. Kevin Corbin (R)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 77 

    Over 1,850 Cherokee County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 75 new jobs and $11 million in economic impact.

  5. Richmond County
    Represented by: Sen. Tom McInnis (R), Rep. Scott Brewer (D)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 75

    About 3,700 Richmond County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 133 new jobs and $24 million in economic impact.

  6. Scotland County
    Represented by: Sen. Tom McInnis (R), Rep. Garland Pierce (D)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 74

    Over 2,600 Scotland County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 120 new jobs and $22 million in economic impact.

  7. Vance County
    Represented by: Sen. Erica D. Smith (D), Rep. Terry Garrison (D)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 72

    About 3,500 Vance County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 146 new jobs and $29 million in economic impact.

  8. Rockingham County
    Represented by: Sen. Phil Berger (R), Rep. Jerry Carter (R), Rep. Kyle Hall (R)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 70

    Over 5,800 Rockingham County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 270 new jobs and $44 million in economic impact.

  9. Burke County
    Represented by: Sen. Warren Daniel (R), Rep. David Rogers (R), Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 68

    Over 6,600 Burke County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 450 new jobs and $74 million in economic impact.

  10. Lenoir County
    Represented by: Sen. Jim Perry (R), Rep. Chris Humphrey (R)
    Number of pills sold per person, per year: 63 

    Over 4,500 Lenoir County residents would gain affordable health care access by 2022 thanks to Medicaid expansion, which would also create 200 new jobs and $42 million in economic impact.

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