The opioid epidemic has raged across the United States in recent years, but it has affected West Virginia more severely than most states. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, West Virginia ranked second only to Vermont in per capita overdose deaths from heroin and first in deaths from synthetic opioids.
On Sept. 9, 2020, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., sent a tweet marking House Energy and Commerce Committee approval of the Block, Report, And Suspend Suspicious Shipments Act of 2019, or H.R. 3878. McKinley is the bill’s chief sponsor.
The legislation, which has not yet been taken up by the full House, imposes added requirements for drug manufacturers and distributors that discover a suspicious order for controlled substances.
In his tweet, McKinley said, “NEWS: @HouseCommerce reported the Block, Report, And Suspend Shipments Act to the House floor. Nearly 800 million opioid pills were shipped to WV, amounting to 433 pills for every man, woman & child in the state. Our legislation will help prevent this from ever happening again.”
Those are stunning numbers. Is McKinley correct about 433 pills being shipped to the state for every West Virginia resident?
McKinley’s language in the tweet mirrors that of a formal opioid response plan released by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources in January 2018.
“Between 2007 and 2012,” the report said, “drug wholesalers shipped more than 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the state. This amounted to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.”
McKinley’s office also pointed us to a Pulitzer Prize-winning Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation published in 2016 that is the likely source of the statistics for the West Virginia state government report.
The newspaper, which is a PolitiFact West Virginia partner, based its figures on previously confidential drug shipping sales records that had been sent by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to the office of West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey. The records disclose the number of pills sold to every pharmacy in the state and the drug companies’ shipments to all 55 counties in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, the newspaper reported.
McKinley is essentially correct when he uses the “nearly 800 million” figure to refer to the “more than 780 million” pills that entered the state. This flood of opioids into the state led to 1,728 fatal overdoses over that period, according to a statement from a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing held on May 8, 2018.
As for the 433 per person statistic, its accuracy depends on what snapshot of the state’s population you use. Since the time frame for the pill shipments stretched from 2007 to 2012, we used the 2010 census data to calculate the number of pills per person.
That year’s census counted 1,852,994 residents of West Virginia, meaning the number of pills per person, if you use the 780 million figure, was about 421. It is probably a little higher since the figure is “nearly 800 million.” Broadly, it’s in the ballpark.
McKinley said, “Nearly 800 million opioid pills were shipped to WV, amounting to 433 pills for every man, woman, and child in the state.”
A state report put the number of pills flowing into West Virginia at more than 780 million. Using 2010 census data, that works out to 421 pills for every resident of West Virginia.
It’s worth noting, however, that these hundreds of millions of pills flowed into the state over a six-year period, and that the last year included in the data was eight years ago.
We rate the statement Mostly True.