Prescription drugs take-back

A box of prescription drugs turned in during Drug Take-Back Day in New Hampshire.

A recent Washington Post analysis of a federal Drug Enforcement Administration database shows nearly 290 million prescription pain pills were supplied to New Hampshire from 2006 to 2012.

The national analysis broke down the data by county, revealing that Grafton County had the highest rate of oxycodone and hydrocodone prescriptions in the state, amounting to 38.5 pills per person per year. There were 23.7 million pain pills supplied during that time period, with more than four million pills supplied by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Pharmacy in Lebanon.

There were 36 pills per person per year supplied in both Merrimack and Strafford counties in that period, according to the Washington Post.

In Hillsborough County, a total of 68.5 million pain pills were distributed, enough for 24 pills per person per year. There were more than 3 million pills distributed by CVS in Manchester and the same amount by CVS in Nashua during that period.

Jeffrey Meyers, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said he wasn’t surprised at what the Washington Post analysis revealed. “I think that tells a lot of the story,” he said.

As recently as 2017, he said, nearly a million prescriptions for opioids were still being written in New Hampshire annually.

“It had to have had a tremendous impact on getting people addicted,” Meyers said. “And then once they are addicted and cut off from their supply of prescription pills, some people do things that they never contemplated that they might do in terms of using illegal drugs.”

According to the Washington Post analysis, the top five pharmacies that provided these painkillers statewide from 2006 to 2012 were Neighborcare of New Hampshire (part of CVS Healthcare), Walgreen Eastern Co. in Rochester, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Pharmacy in Lebanon, CVS in Keene and CVS in Manchester.

Clarence Adams is senior director of media relations at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which operates the Doorway hub for the Upper Valley region as well as serving as the statewide after-hours clinical resource for the 2-1-1 system.

It’s not surprising that D-H’s pharmacy had one of the highest prescription rates, Adams said. DHMC’s campus in Lebanon includes an outpatient surgery center, emergency department, palliative care center, same-day surgery center, Norris Cotton Cancer Center, pain clinic, general internal medicine and a birthing pavilion, and clinicians at all of those centers write opioid prescriptions for long- and short-term pain control.

However, DHMC has also been at the forefront of establishing new guidelines for prescribing opioids. The New Hampshire Sunday News has previously reported on research by Dr. Richard Barth, chief of surgery at DHMC, that showed post-surgery patients need far less pain medication than typically prescribed. The medical center has since developed new guidelines for opioid prescribing that have been adopted throughout the D-H system, Adams said.

Mike DeAngelis, senior director of corporate communications for CVS Health, said Omnicare (called Neighborcare in the DEA database) provides long-term care (LTC) pharmacy services to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. During the 2006 to 2012 time period, he said, Omnicare LTC pharmacies primarily served skilled nursing facilities, where patients discharged from hospitals recover after fractures, hip and joint replacements or traumatic injuries.

DeAngelis said the Omnicare pharmacy in Londonderry is the largest LTC pharmacy in the state and has clients in both New Hampshire and Vermont. As for the CVS retail pharmacies that made the top five list, the pharmacy in Manchester is across from Elliot Hospital’s campus, and the West Street pharmacy in Keene is near Cheshire Medical Center and Norris Cotton Cancer Center, he said.

DeAngelis said while CVS Health has taken “numerous actions” to strengthen existing safeguards in response to the opioid epidemic, “It is important to keep in mind that doctors have the primary responsibility to make sure the opioid prescriptions they write are for a legitimate purpose.”