Opioid epidemic endures as small towns target pharmacies

Midwest

FILE – This undated combination of file photos show the signs of CVS, Walmart and Walgreens. A federal judge in Cleveland awarded $650 million in in damages on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, to two Ohio counties that won a landmark lawsuit against national pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, claiming the way they distributed opioids to customers caused severe harm to communities. (AP Photo/File)

(NewsNation) — Megan Short’s pain is unbearable. Last June, she lost her 26-year-old son Billy Sissel to a heroin overdose.

The heroin Sissel, a father of a 3-year-old, took was laced with the deadly drug fentanyl.

America’s opioid epidemic is out of control in neighborhoods across the country, claiming thousands of lives, leaving families grieving and asking questions.

There were an estimated 107,622 drug overdoses in 2021, a 15% increase from 2020. Of those overdoses, 66.5% involved a synthetic opioid, mainly fentanyl. The biggest increase occurred in Alaska, where deaths are up a staggering 75.3%.

Now, it’s often coming down to local governments to fight as hard as they can to save their communities.

“In Houston, we’re estimating it’s three people per day, just fentanyl alone, just fentanyl,” said Joy Alonzo, the co-chair for the opioid task force at Texas A&M University.

The task force’s biggest challenge is lack of funding to keep up with the demand for naloxone, a life-saving drug used to reverse overdoses.

“And, you know, kids can buy these counterfeit tablets, and they look really good,” Alonzo said. “I mean, I’ve been in the medical field for 40 years, and I can’t tell the difference.”

Local governments are also fighting back by targeting pharmacy chains.

More than a dozen counties in Illinois are suing after similar lawsuits in Ohio, where a judge ordered CVS, Walgreens and Walmart to pay more than $600 million in damages.

Gerald Posner has been tracking fentanyl for more than 30 years. He explained to NewsNation why counties are going after pharmacy chains.

“They said you’re the last line of defense in this process, if there are a whole bunch of fake prescriptions, if there are pill mills, if there are too many pills being sent to a specific town, you’re the pharmacy that’s supposed to say I’m not going to fill them,” Posner said. “One of them over a four-year period had enough oxycontin sent to it for 400 pills for every resident of the town including children and infants.”

According to the CDC, more than 250 Americans die every day from an overdose. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers of this crisis, to forget that every statistic represents a family left behind. Like Short’s family.

“His one thing that was important to him,” she said of her son, “was making sure everyone was happy and smiling.”

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