Epidemiologist: Drug supply fueled WVa crisis over poverty

Apr 12, 2022, 2:27 AM | Updated: 3:57 pm
FILE - A sign advertising addiction treatment is posted to a utility pole in Huntington, W.Va., Fri...

FILE - A sign advertising addiction treatment is posted to a utility pole in Huntington, W.Va., Friday, March 19, 2021. The influx of prescription opioids into West Virginia communities was the main driver of the state's drug crisis, more than poverty, job loss and other economic stressors, an epidemiologist testified Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at the ongoing trial against three major pharmaceutical companies. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File).

(AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The influx of prescription opioids into West Virginia communities was the main driver of the state’s drug crisis — more than poverty, job loss and other economic stressors, an epidemiologist testified Tuesday at the ongoing trial against three major pharmaceutical companies.

“The economic conditions were the kindling, but the opioid suppliers were the gasoline that was poured directly on that kindling,” said Dr. Katherine Keyes, director of Columbia University’s Psychiatric Epidemiology Training Program.

Keyes was questioned on the stand all day Tuesday in the state’s bench trial against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., AbbVie Inc.’s Allergan and their family of companies.

The West Virginia trial began last week and is expected to last up to two months. State and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and other entities have filed more than 3,000 lawsuits involving the opioid epidemic in state and federal courts.

Most allege the industry created a public nuisance in a crisis that has been linked to the deaths of 500,000 Americans over the past two decades.

A trial opened Monday in Florida’s opioid epidemic lawsuit against the Walgreens pharmacy chain, which state officials accuse of prioritizing profits over health by improperly dispensing millions of powerful painkillers that caused tens of thousands of deaths. Closing arguments are expected this week for an opioid-related trial in Washington.

Keyes described West Virginia, one of the poorest U.S. states, as the “epicenter of the opioid crisis in the U.S.” More people have died of overdoses in the state per capita than any other, all while the state has been grappling with a loss of jobs from the declining coal industry. West Virginia was one of the only U.S. states to lose population during the 2020 U.S. census.

But while she said there is a relationship between poverty and unemployment and drug deaths, the number of prescription drugs present in communities makes a much greater impact.

“Economic factors certainly are important and certainly play a role and we should be paying attention to those, but the opioid supply is by far the predominant risk factor,” she said.

Keyes said she’d cited at least 400 scientific papers in her research preparing for trial. One 2021 study reviewing opioid shipments to retail pharmacies across the country showed that Mingo County, West Virginia, had the highest rate of per capita pill volume in the country in 2008. The county saw an influx of 372 pills per capita, compared with a population-weighted national average of around 35.

Lawyers representing the pharmaceutical companies said West Virginia has greater rates of prescription drug use across the board. They also said there are higher rates of individuals who are diagnosed with chronic pain conditions in the state compared with the national average, a statistic likely related to the higher number of people working jobs that require manual labor.

During her testimony, Keyes said that the wave of prescription opioids drove a tsunami of drug dependence and prescription opioid-related overdose deaths. As the number of people being prescribed opioids decreased, people turned to heroin and fentanyl.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Much of drought-plagued West Coast faces salmon fishing ban

The surreal and desperate scramble boosted the survival rate of the hatchery-raised fish, but still it was not enough to reverse the declining stocks in the face of added challenges.
15 hours ago
UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) shoots while defended by Gonzaga's Rasir Bolton (45) in the first half...
Associated Press

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Strawther’s shot

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA's Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 NCAA Tournament win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Officials: Safety device, human error derailed Wash. train

A safety device failed, knocking a train off the tracks last week, spilling diesel after leaving an oil refinery in Anacortes.
15 hours ago
File - Credit cards as seen July 1, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. A low credit score can hurt your ability...
Associated Press

What the Fed rate increase means for your credit card bill

The Federal Reserve raised its key rate by another quarter point Wednesday, bringing it to the highest level in 15 years as part of an ongoing effort to ease inflation by making borrowing more expensive.
2 days ago
police lights distracted drivers shooting...
Associated Press

Authorities: Missing mom, daughter in Washington found dead

A missing Washington state woman and her daughter were found dead Wednesday, according to police.
2 days ago
Associated Press

Google’s artificially intelligent ‘Bard’ set for next stage

Google announced Tuesday it's allowing more people to interact with “ Bard,” the artificially intelligent chatbot the company is building to counter Microsoft's early lead in a pivotal battleground of technology.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Epidemiologist: Drug supply fueled WVa crisis over poverty