Critics say database of opioid distribution paints unfair image

PARKERSBURG — Numbers released on opioid pills distributed in the Mid-Ohio Valley do not tell the whole story, critics say.

The data was made public after The Washington Post along with HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail, sued the national Drug Enforcement Administration for access to its Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System.

The Post published an online database of prescription pill distribution by state and county, including the average number per person per year, the companies that supplied the most pills and the businesses which received the most pills during that time period. The numbers do not necessarily mean that number of pills were used within that county, as some prescriptions were written or filled for people coming from other areas.

In Wood County, nearly 40 million pain pills total were distributed between 2006-2012, an average of 65 pills per person per year. Among the numbers provided, Bond’s Drug Store in Washington, W.Va., was noted as receiving the most pills during that period of time, slightly more than 3 million. However, CVS accounted for the next three highest amounts in Wood County, totalling nearly 8 million.

A letter sent to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel by Tim Bond of Bond’s Drug Store said the story and the numbers painted an unfair and incomplete picture.

“The main point I would like to make is that these numbers mean nothing without context,” he said in the letter. “For example, a pharmacy may be a primary pharmacy for hospice patients. Maybe the pharmacy provides for elderly chronically ill patients in nursing homes? Maybe the pharmacy has a higher volume? Maybe patients with chronic illness prefer the pharmacy because they require time and attention not always provided somewhere else.

“All of these could be said about us.”

Bond also said pharmacies are being unfairly targeted for filling legal prescriptions.

Pharmacies “do not write prescriptions. We also do not have a complete medical record of every patient,” Bond said. “We rely on prescriber’s judgment to determine what is in the best interest of a patient. We report every controlled drug prescription to a database in which law enforcement and the DEA have access. We rely on them to use that data to determine if a Physician is not practicing in a proper manner. We screen patients for misuse/abuse of controlled drugs and contact physicians when we have concerns. We have refused to fill prescriptions on many occasions when in our professional judgment the patient was not acting in an honorable manner.”

Bond declined an interview, but in an email response said “there is no doubt that opiates were over prescribed especially during that time period. I think all the necessary steps are being taken to correct the issues that took place. Doctors are more cognizant of the potential for abuse and the bad actors are being eliminated.”

Parkersburg resident Sam Maze said the victims in the government’s crackdown on opiates are the patients who need them.

“People like me are totally hung out to dry,” he said. “I’ve been a chronic-pain patient for almost 20 years. I’ve always been dealing with certified pain management doctors, of which there are now very few in West Virginia.”

Maze, 73, has had three spinal surgeries and suffers from peripheral neuropathy, a condition where damage to the spinal column causes overactive nerves, which for him causes constant and debilitating burning pain in his feet. Without pain medications, he said, his quality of life is nearly nonexistent.

Maze said about 16 months ago he was caught up in the push to blame prescription narcotics for the current overdose rate.

The pain management doctor “stopped writing them because he was afraid of losing his license,” Maze said. “I went into withdrawal. I almost died.”

Maze said officials warned he was taking nearly six-times the recommended dosage for pain medication, but said lower doses did not work and he had been taking the higher doses for years without issue.

“I’d been taking them for 15 years and never had a problem,” he said.

About six months ago Maze returned to his regular prescription, and said he submits to drug testing every 60 days, not only to show he is not using anything other than the drugs prescribed him, but also that he is using all of the medication he receives.

Maze said cutting off legal drugs to law-abiding patients only fuels other addictions and self-destructive decisions.

“When you live with this kind of pain, it drives people right to the edges, whether that’s alcohol, illegal drugs or suicide,” he said

Maze said he fears more honest doctors will be driven out of the already shrinking field of pain management physicians over concerns of lawsuits and prosecution.

“If my doctor goes that route, what am I going to do? The problem is not with these doctors. There shouldn’t be any issue for a doctor writing a proper prescription for a patient under their care,” he said. “The real problem is the lust of the American people for illegal drugs. The government can’t control illegal drugs, so they clamp down on the legal ones.”

Michael Erb can be contacted at merb@newsandsentinel.com