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780 million opioid painkillers were shipped into West Virginia in the past 2 years aloneby Mike Denison
Health

 West Virginia has been one of the hardest-hit states in the current U.S. opioid epidemic. 

In the past two years, 780 million painkillers (specifically hydrocodone and oxycodone) were shipped to the state. More than 1,700 people in West Virginia died after overdosing on painkillers during that time, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.

The shipments varied wildly by pharmacy. One store received 600 times as many pills as the Rite-Aid a few blocks away. 

"These numbers will shake even the most cynical observer... There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness."

Don Perdue, former state delegate

For context, that's 433 painkillers for every person in the state. The shipments kept increasing even as the death toll kept rising. 

The newspaper investigation found the state's Board of Pharmacy didn't enforce regulations meant to catch suspicious drug orders. 

The blame game

Business is booming for some of the opioid suppliers. McKesson, one of the leading suppliers to West Virginia, is now the fifth-largest corporation in the country and boasts one of the highest-paid CEOs, John H. Hammergren.

McKesson attorney John Saia said the drug suppliers are not to blame -- it's the doctors who write prescriptions. 

It wasn't just the quantity of drugs on the rise, but the potency. The investigation found the number of 5-milligram doses was declining while shipments of stronger formulations, as high as 30 milligrams, were on the rise.

WATCH  | The opioid epidemic isn't unique to West Virginia. This Mannequin Challenge video is a striking reminder of the damage it has caused.

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