SANFORD, Fla. - More than 1 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pain pills were shipped to pharmacies in nine counties throughout Central Florida between 2006 and 2012, a newly released federal database shows.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's database, which was made public as part of a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies, was first obtained by The Washington Post after the publication appealed a court ruling seeking the release of the opioid tracking records.
The legal prescription medication delivered to Central Florida was among 76 billion pain pills that drug companies distributed nationwide during that six-year period, records show.
A CVS Pharmacy on U.S. 17-92 in Sanford received more shipments of prescription painkillers than nearly any other pharmacy in Florida -- approximately 1.5 million doses per year -- according to the database.
That pharmacy, which is just blocks from the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, was the subject of a federal drug raid in 2012.
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"People would literally walk out of the pharmacy, go into the parking lot and try to sell pills," said Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.
CVS representatives did not respond to emails from News 6 seeking comment for this story. But the company told The Washington Post that it complies with all federal and state laws governing the dispensing of prescriptions for controlled substances.
Lemma said he is not surprised by the newly released data showing that Seminole County received an average of 21 million pain pills per year between 2006 and 2012.
"People did not know, or they did not believe. But we've known this for a long time," said Lemma. "It absolutely created the epidemic that we face right now."
Even though other parts of the country were flooded with many more prescription pain pills than Seminole County, the sheriff believes there was no legitimate medical need for so many opioids in his community.
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"We knew doctors were overprescribing," said Lemma.
Sunil Patel, the owner of Discount Rx in Sanford, told News 6 that all of the prescriptions his pharmacy filled were written by local doctors.
"It never occurred to us at the time that some people were abusing (the pills)," said Patel.
According to the pharmacist, new federal and state laws regulating practitioners who prescribe controlled substances such as opioids have led to a drastic reduction in the number of prescriptions he has filled.
Patel's pharmacy was receiving an average of 2,735 pain pills each day from 2006 to 2012, according to the federal database. Patel said he did not dispute the figure.
"Nowadays, it's maybe 100 pills," said the pharmacist.
Even though doctors may be prescribing fewer legal pain pills now, Lemma said people who became addicted a decade ago might now be seeking illicit and dangerous alternatives, such as heroin laced with fentanyl.
According to the sheriff, 80 people died of an opioid-related overdose in Seminole County last year, which is more than double the number of fatalities due to firearms and automobiles.
"We have determined the No. 1 predictor of whether someone will overdose and die is whether they've overdosed and lived," said Lemma, who served as chair for Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's opioid abuse working group.
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office is working with other county agencies to help opioid addicts recover.
In addition, the sheriff recently implemented a new program that provides addicts incarcerated in the county jail with a rehabilitative program that includes medical-assisted treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy.
"This is something that is new. It's innovative, and we're absolutely convinced it will change peoples' lives," said Lemma.
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