A recent report on the country’s opioid crisis appeared to show the City of Falls Church as a hot spot for opioid overprescription, showing pill distribution far outweighing its neighboring jurisdictions. After further analysis, however, the concern over possible abuse can be dispelled through both the report’s formula preferences and the location of pharmacies in and around the City.
An analysis of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s pain pill database by the Washington Post in July covered the distribution of pain pills nationwide from 2006-12. A feature of the report gave readers a chance to select the state and either county or independent city to view the total number of pain pills prescribed along with which companies manufactured the most pills, which companies distributed the most and which pharmacies prescribed the most.
When examining the number of pills distributed per person, which the report also provided, the City appeared to be an outlier in the region. According to the report, a total of 5,484,588 pills were distributed in the City, enough for 68 pills per person. Kaiser Permanente’s Falls Church Medical Center on N. Washington St. distributed a majority of the pills in the City (2,783,180) from the data.
The City’s numbers far outweighed Fairfax County (103,768,066 pills distributed or 14 per person) Arlington County (12,494,089 pills distributed or 9 per person) and Fairfax City (5,304,258 pills distributed or 34 per person).
Although one component skewing the data to show increased pill distribution in the City is how the DEA “doesn’t distinguish between Virginia’s independent cities and counties in the data, so any independent city in the data is going to appear toward the higher end of the data,” a member from the Post’s team that conducted the study told the News-Press.
A second analysis, as this team member clarified, measured the number of pills distributed to every retail pharmacy in the data and then compared that number to the number of people within five miles of every pharmacy. The Post also checked which pharmacies were in the top 10 percent for pill shipments within the county. Pharmacies in the Falls Church area appeared toward the lower bound of the Post’s scale when conducting this second analysis.
The report also outlines where pills were distributed most — not necessarily where they were used most. The 2006-12 date range for the report was when Kaiser’s Falls Church location was its only medical center inside the beltway, prior to Tysons Corner getting its own medical center a few miles from Falls Church in 2012.
“Members from many cities and counties in Virginia receive care and fill their prescriptions at the Falls Church Medical Center,” a representative from Kaiser told the News-Press, who added. “[Kaiser] has reduced opioid prescriptions at high doses by nearly 74 percent in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., by focusing on patient safety and evidence-based pain management.”
The epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States appears to be coming to a head. Last week, an Oklahoma judge found Johnson & Johnson liable for the state’s opioid problems and fined the drug company $527 million while Purdue Pharma is reportedly settling for up to $12 billion for the alleged misleading marketing of OxyContin.
The Post’s team member also mentioned that Northern Virginia didn’t receive as many pain pills per capita as southwest Virginia, which along with Baltimore City, received some of the most pills for the entire D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. According to attorney general Mark Herring and verified by the Post’s analysis, two cities in southwestern Virginia — Norton and Martinsville — received the most opioid pain pills per capita in the country between 2006 and 2012, with Norton receiving 305 pills per person and Martinsville 242 per person.