Two Virginia cities received the most opioid pain pills per capita in the nation between 2006 and 2012, according to a new Washington Post analysis of newly released company data. 

Norton, Va., a rural town of only 4,000 people, received an astounding 306 pills per person per year, while Martinsville, Va. was flooded with 242 pills per person each year. 

The consequences for Norton were particularly catastrophic; the per capita death rate from prescription opioid overdoses was 18 times the national rate — easily the highest in the country.

“That number blows me away,” Joseph Fawbush, Norton’s mayor, told the Post. “I believe the manufacturers misled the doctors. It is addictive and they were telling the doctors it’s not addictive.”

Statewide, the analysis found that pharmaceutical companies flooded the Commonwealth with more than 1.6 billion prescription pain pills from 2006 to 2012.

Nationwide, that number was more than 76 billion.

The surge in available pain pills accelerated the devastating opioid epidemic, killing nearly 100,000 Americans during those years. 

The companies that released the most pills nationwide include:

  • McKesson Corp. – Distributed 14.1 billion (or 18.4%)
  • Walgreens – Distributed 12.6 billion pills (16.5%)
  • Cardinal Health – Distributed 10.7 billion pills (14.0%)

All together, these three companies accounted for nearly half of the pills distributed in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012. 

On the manufacturing side, the Post found that just two companies produced over 72% of the opioids: SpecGX manufactured 28.8 billion pills (37.7%), while Actavis Pharma produced 26.4 billion pills (34.6%). 

Purdue Pharma, which is perhaps the most well-known manufacturer of opioids and stands accused of igniting the epidemic with its OxyContin drug, was ranked fourth among manufacturers with about 3% of the market.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring sued Purdue Pharma in June 2018 for its role in advancing the opioid crisis; the company pushed nearly 150 million opioid pills and patches into the Commonwealth between 2008 and 2017. 

In response to the Post analysis, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring released a statement, saying the new data was consistent with the information he obtained via his lawsuit against Purdue. 

“This new data just reinforces what we’ve long known: the roots of this crisis run through American medicine cabinets into the boardrooms and marketing offices of pharmaceutical companies, and they need to be held accountable.” 

Herring’s battle is just one of dozens being waged against pharmaceutical companies, who’ve also been accused of price fixing and fraud

Those cases will wind their way through the court system, and in some cases, result in settlements. But for residents of places like Norton, the damage has already been done. 

Norton’s Mayor Joseph Fawbush told the Post that opioids have devastated his town. “Our jails are overflowing, a high percentage of children now have to be raised by their grandparents, and our court system and emergency services are strained,” Fawbush said.

8.2 million pain pills later, Norton is a town forever changed.