Living in Society Social Commentary

Data Points To Corporate Influence

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Is the Ohio federal court’s recent release of Drug Enforcement Agency data about manufacture and distribution of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills significant?


I found last week’s Washington Post presentation of scrubbed data engaging for the ten minutes or so it took to drill down to Iowa and the county in which I live. Readers can do likewise by clicking here.

The data doesn’t change much. If anything, it confirms what I wrote in 2016:

Fanning the embers of opioid abuse into a raging wildfire serves the interests of Big Pharma and its minions in the U.S. Congress. The opioid epidemic represents another opportunity for corporations to mold government in a way that serves their interests.

According to data, Iowa took delivery of 562,927,414 of these pills manufactured by Actavis Pharma Inc., SpecGX LLC., and a few other companies between 2006 and 2012. They were delivered to Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee, and a number of other independent and chain pharmacies.

I live in Johnson County, which took delivery of 12,158,306 pills, or enough for everyone to have about one per month. Two days a week I drive by the Walgreens in Coralville which received the highest number of pills in the county. I had no idea, and in the long view, I’m not sure it’s significant. In part, the opioid epidemic is driven by availability and ease of access. The drug companies are making sure the pills are available.

There is a human aspect of the massive distribution of narcotics. The Washington Post intends to mine the data for stories beginning with those of southwestern Virginia where my father’s family first appeared in the 17th Century, and distribution of opioids was highest in the country. I haven’t enjoyed the coverage of Norton, Virginia and surrounding Wise County.

For comparison, Wise County took delivery of ten times the number of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills as Johnson County, Iowa, with the highest number delivered to Family Drug in Big Stone Gap. In Norton, Virginia, 306 pills per person were delivered according to the Washington Post. Dennis Boggs of Norton summarized the problem to the Washington Post. “There’s not a lot to do,” Boggs said. “It gives them something to do around here.” He was talking about using these legal narcotics.

“What they did legally to my state is criminal,” Senator Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told the Post. “The companies, the distributors, were unconscionable. This was not a health plan. This was a targeted business plan. I cannot believe that we have not gone after them with criminal charges.”

Manchin has a point and it serves mine. Pharmaceutical companies are executing a business plan, one that includes substantial influence of the Congress. If the human misery of easy opioid availability is hard to take, look at it from a business standpoint. Companies are working an abstract plan designed to maximize revenue and profits within current regulatory framework. Once lobbyists have set the rules for prescription, manufacture and distribution of opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, such regulation turns out to be very little regulation at all, at least when it comes to protecting the public.

This distribution of oxycodone and hydrocodone is a different face on the same problem, the influence of corporations on our government. It is important not to be distracted by the drama.

Last year Governor Kim Reynolds signed HF 2377 into law. The law focuses on narcotics users and those who prescribe them in hope of reducing the number of opioid users in Iowa, according to the governor’s press release. The vote for the bill was unanimous in both the Iowa House and Senate. Given the comparatively low level of opioid pill distribution in Iowa, revealed by the Washington Post data, aren’t there other, bigger problems for political focus? Things like fixing Iowa’s disastrous privatization of Medicaid which impacts lives as well.

Data can measure the success or failure of HF 2377. What is hard is to measure the intent and human impact of large corporation business plans. The newly revealed data is pointing to corporations as the problem in the opioid crisis.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa