GALLIA COUNTY — Gallia County was the second highest county in Ohio for pain pill prescription distributions per resident between 2006 and 2012, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database published by the The Washington Post recently.
Of the roughly 3.4 billion Ohio prescription pain pills distributed in the time period, Jackson County received the highest per resident share, roughly 107 pills per resident a year. Neighboring Gallia received 88 per resident a year. Scioto County received 68 per resident a year. Meigs County received 64 per resident a year. Nearby Mason County, W.Va. received 82 pills per resident a year.
Gallia County has a population of 30,934, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Basic math utilizing the previous figures says that 2,722,192 pain pills came into Gallia a year. According to the database, 19,081,170 prescription pain pills passed through Gallia between 2006 and 2012.
Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Executive Director Robin Harris was interviewed by national and state publications upon the information’s release, including the Associated Press and The Columbus Dispatch.
Harris said the DEA tracked the flow of pills through Ohio during the time period and were looking at prescription opiates such as oxycodone and hydrodocone pills traveling to pharmacies.
“When we talk about distribution though pharmacies,” said Harris, “there are many ways to interpret that. We know definitely just because of the high rates of addiction in this area that it’s very true that the number of pills exceeds what it would have been in other areas. Those numbers can be somewhat skewed by how many pharmacies are in a county or how many people are in a county…There were counties in West Virginia that came out 200 plus pills (a resident a year). That might reflect a more sparsely populated area…Still there is no doubt that Appalachia is the area that’s been hardest hit.”
“This story (the opioid epidemic) affects many families, even mine,” said Harris. “I lost a 24-year-old nephew to this…There are so many stories. People who went in for back surgery and came out addicted. Veterans who were injured and became addicted.”
“I looked at this data and I say, well, this is old. It’s old data,” said Harris. “I had to sit back at this and pause…We’ve been in the throes of this (the opioid epidemic) for so long and it’s become the way it is (in terms of Appalachian life), not that I find that acceptable. That was the surprise factor for me. When we started getting calls from (media outlets). This wasn’t news to us in a way…In some aspects, this (epidemic) has become generational but there are so many factors when you talk about human behavior.”
The director said one of her key focuses while attempting to set aside resources for intervention and prevention of addiction was also focusing on the trauma of children living in families struggling with the epidemic.
Harris said the database information was important in terms of holding institutions accountable.
“In reading the results of the DEA information which was recently released, I can say I’m not shocked,” said Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin. “During much of the time period of these statistics, I worked the streets on patrol and conducted covert narcotics investigations. From that level of enforcement, I got to see first hand the pollution that was being poured out by the drug companies into our streets, which had a catastrophic impact. I’ve read the responses of the drug companies who want to try to duck their heads under the facts that we have before us and they should surely be ashamed of themselves. The statistics speak for themselves about the staggering number of highly addictive opiate pain killers that these commercial companies pumped out into our region to poison our citizens. Now we are left to sift through the rubble while they continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”
“I was working as a prosecutor,” said Gallipolis Municipal Judge Eric Mulford, “and between 2006 and 2012 especially, it was really obvious that our county was flooded with prescription pain pills and that they were being abused and trafficked. Now we see more meth and heroin than pills. But I’m surprised at the number of people, including in our recovery court, who tell me that their addiction began years ago with prescription pills.”
Mulford commented that the quantity of pills distributed in Gallia was “outrageous” and remarked that many residents were still stuck in a cycle of trying to kill pain instead of curing a problem and turning to illegal substances.
“There’s no study that can accurately measure the collateral effects of the abuse that occurred,” said Mulford. “I’m talking about indirect results like theft, OVI, family violence, divorce, children going hungry because their parents were not providing, and the list could go on and on.”
“At a recent coalition meeting, we discussed the priority of addressing the ongoing issue of prescription medication,” said Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery (Gallia CPR) Chairman Thom Mollohan. “We had the beginnings of a team that would concentrate on the prescription medication issue, especially to prepare for October which is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month.
The Gallia CPR coalition consists of area nonprofits such as God’s Hands at Work, the Field of Hope Community Campus, as well as behavioral health organizations such as Wing Haven, Health Recovery Services, the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, the Gallia County Prosecutor’s Office, Gallipolis Neighborhood Crime Watch, Holzer Health System, Gallipolis City Commission, the Gallia County Health Department and more.
Mollohan said the coalition was in contact with area health professionals about how to address the problem.
“They’ve really begun to try and change their procedures to help physicians to be cognizant of the dangers that may be overlooked, including the excessive prescribing of pain medications in particular,” said Mollohan.
To find out more about the database published by The Washington Post, visit https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/dea-pain-pill-database/?utm_term=.7209a3596dc9#download-resources
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.