DEA database paints picture of Beaufort County opioid problem

Published 3:33 pm Sunday, July 21, 2019

A DEA database that has tracked every pain pill sold in the U.S., down to the county level, is now available to the public.

After a yearlong court battle, The Washington Post, along with HD Media, gained access to ARCOS, the DEA database containing information about manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies participating in the sale of prescription painkillers. Included are the number of pills sold or distributed by each during a seven-year period where nearly 100,000 Americans died from opioid overdose.

The top 5 of manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies involved in prescription sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone are listed for all 100 North Carolina counties, including Beaufort. Oxycodone and hydrocodone account for three-quarters of all opioid prescription painkillers distributed to pharmacies.

From 2006 to 2012 in Beaufort County, a total of 15,421,990 prescription pain pills were supplied to Beaufort County, or 46 pills per county resident, per year, according to The Washington Post. The following are the top 5 manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies involved in the sale of prescription painkillers in the county during this time period:


  • SpecGX LLC, 8,760,700 pills
  • Actavis Pharma, Inc., 2,863,700 pills
  • Par Pharmaceutical, 2,159,710 pills
  • Amneal Pharmaceuticals LLC, 597,500 pills
  • Purdue Pharma LP, 401,840 pills

SpecGX LLC is a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt, an Irish pharmaceutical company with U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, Missiouri. Three companies manufactured 88% of opioids, among them are SpecGX LLC, with 37.7% of the market, or 29 billion pills.


  • NC Mutual Wholesale Drug Co, 5,532,160 pills
  • Cardinal Health, 4,817,310 pills
  • Walgreen Co, 2,021,500 pills
  • Wal-Mart, 1,116,600 pills
  • CVS, 861,600

NC Mutual Wholesale Drug Company is wholesale distributor of prescription and non-prescription pharmaceutical products to independent drug stores in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Nationally, NC Mutual Wholesale distributed .7% of U.S. pills, a total of 550 million. Cardinal Health, a multinational health care services company, is the 14th-highest revenue generating company in the U.S., and distributed 14% of all opioid pills in the U.S. from 2006-2012, or 11 billion pills.


  • Hospital Pharmacy, 2,830,750 pills
  • Walgreen Co., Washington, 2,086,560
  • Kerr Drug, Washington, 2,015,530
  • CVS Pharmacy, Washington, 1,646,400
  • Chocowinity Pharmacy, Inc., 1,641,790


Nearby, a total of 41,817,218 prescription pain pills were supplied to Pitt County. With a population of approximately 180,000, Pitt County was supplied enough pain pills to give each resident 37 pills, per year. No prescription pain pills were delivered to Hyde County. Of counties with populations similar to Beaufort County, Edgecombe County, with 52,000 residents, was supplied 9,397,655 pills, or enough for 24 pills per person, per year, while Columbus County, a county located near Wilmington with approximately 55,000 residents, was supplied a total of 44,707,520 pain pills, or 113 pills per resident, per year.

The explosion of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. and numbers supplied by ARCOS and other sources have prompted many local governments to participate in class action lawsuits against major manufacturers and distributors of opioid painkillers. Beaufort County joined forces with them last year.

“It is actually multiple counties, multiple cities and multiple states involved in the lawsuit,” said Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood.

The lawsuit cites public nuisance, violations of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act), negligence and negligent misrepresentation; negligence per se, violation of North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, civic conspiracy and fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation.

Among those named in the lawsuit are Mallinckrodt, the parent company of SpecGX LLC, and largest manufacturer of pain pills distributed in Beaufort County from 2006 to 2012; Actavis, the second-largest manufacturer; and Endo, the parent company of Par Pharmaceuticals, the third-largest. Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc. and McKesson Corporation are also named, each of which has been investigated and/or fined by the DEA for the failure to report suspicious orders, the lawsuit states. In July 2017, Mallinckrodt agreed to pay $35 million to settle allegations brought by the Department of Justice that it failed to detect and notify the DEA of suspicious orders of controlled substances.

Since 2012, Beaufort County’s opioid problem has grown, according to the lawsuit.

“From 1999 through 2007, Beaufort County experienced 19 opiate-related deaths. In the following nine-year period, opiate-related deaths in Beaufort County more than doubled to 40,” according to the lawsuit. “The Centers for Disease Control estimated that in Beaufort County approximately 141.0 opioid prescriptions were dispensed per 100 people in 2016, more than twice the national average for the year (66.5). Leading up to 2016, Beaufort County’s opioid prescription rate remained particularly high with 143.4 prescriptions dispensed per 100 people in 2015, 141.3 in 2014, and 152.3 in 2013, compared to national averages of 70.6 prescriptions per 100 people in 2015, 75.6 in 2014, and 78.1 in 2013.”