Putting Opioids in Perspective

It is imperative that you read the recent story published by the Washington Post. Actually, it is just one of a dozen stories I’ve read in a period of a few weeks. Therefore, I know that opioid abuse is rapidly moving to the forefront as it should. But I’m really burdened by this story. Why? Because of a number. The metric is 5,432,109,644.

What’s that mean? In our society, we see big numbers all the time. In fact, I’m convinced that we don’t grasp the magnitude of the difference between millions and billions any longer. And in many cases we have become numb to what trillions translate to.

There were 5,432,109,644 opioid pills sold between 2006 and 2012. Wow! That’s a big number for the U.S., right? No, no, no! That’s in Texas alone!

It is interesting that the Washington Post had to sue the Drug & Enforcement Agency (DEA) to get the data. And there is still another lawsuit to get more recent data. That’s simply amazing.

Tell Me More

These ugly Texas numbers totaled 602,064,872 for 2006. They climbed to 870,722,919 in 2012 for a compounded annual rate of 6.34%, about 3x the population growth.

Whenever you want numbers to look big, you add up several years. When you want them to look small, you divide by a big denominator. Okay, let’s do that. This billion-pill number equals about 53.75 pills per year for every Texan 18 years and older. Let that sink in for a minute. Do you consider that small?

Gee, Lewis, I’m sure glad you aren’t going to put the spotlight on individual cities!

Oh, but I am. It’s in the database. By city and even right down to the pharmacy or doc buying them from the suppliers.

I lied. I’m not going to show you. Why? Because you will look to see if you are better than average and gleam to know other cities are worse. Or else you will try to make up excuses or even find flaws in the data interpretation. I’ve already done that. Many cities don’t have pharmacies in their towns, making them go to an adjacent city. Interestingly, many of the pills go to veterinarians.

As you can guess, the total number of pills by city is somewhat correlated to the population. But the pills per capita for those over 18 does vary significantly. You will be gravely alarmed by some of the high numbers.

You are welcome to download the database. It’s got 12,108,468 records just for Texas. It won’t fit into Excel. Your IT folks can help you get it downloaded and summarized.

Example: My City

I live in McKinney. The total opioid pills purchased from 2006-2012 were 28,711,325! I almost choked when I saw that number. We are below average on a per capita basis, but that’s nothing we can really brag about. I don’t see a city in Texas that has any boasting rights. Rather, we have everything to fear about the threatening stories embedded in these numbers. We could talk to our school officials, hospitals, social services, police and EMS departments to discover exactly how 28.7 million opioid pills in McKinney translated into headaches, heartaches and costs.

What Are Today’s Counts?

Now, you’re getting my concern. If Texas accounts for 5.4 billion opioid pills in 2006-2012, what do those numbers look like for 2013-now? I have a guess based on the past trends plus population growth, but enough with the numbers. If 5.4 billion won’t get your attention, then you will also be numb when (not if) we go beyond double-digit billions.

Hmmm! Is that why the DEA doesn’t want to release more recent data?

Recommendation

There seems to be plenty of talk, talk, talk. And fortunately, the situation is so deeply into the critical stage that “epidemic” won’t capture the scale. It’s a pandemic. I’m guessing opioids have touched everybody reading this blog. They scare me to death.

How many of your employees are struggling with opioid addiction? Find out! Offer an employee assistance program.

Are there other implications? A prominent Texas City Manager got involved in taking a $25,000 land advisory fee years ago that ended his municipal career. Why did he do this? The answer was he needed to help his brother who had gotten addicted to opioids.

For every story I might have, I bet you have 5-10 or more. Strained relationships. Loss of productivity. Life-threatening situations. They are all around us. Let’s act now. LFM

 

 

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