Four west Alabama counties are the hardest hit by the nation’s opioid crisis, according to data recently released and now the basis of a study by researchers at the University of Alabama.
The data was ordered released by the Drug Enforcement Administration in a June 20 ruling by a federal appeals court, following a two-year legal battle waged by The Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail of West Virginia.
The data shows that some of the worst problems with opioid abuse occur in Marion, Walker, Winston and Franklin counties.
UA researchers have landed a $200,000 grant to study the issue in those counties, it was announced on August 19 by the The Crimson White, reported by Rebecca Griesbach.
“If you look at opioid prescriptions per capita and a number of other factors, that region is quite highly ranked nationally for being one of the worst contiguous regions in the United States,” Matthew Hudnall, one of the UA researchers, told The Crimson White.
The database that pinpointed the four Alabama counties is the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), created by the DEA to track the manufacture and distribution of prescription drugs, including billions of opioid painkillers.
The DEA, backed by the interests of major pharmaceutical companies, resisted release of the data, telling courts it violated proprietary rights. Lawsuits by the newspapers to release the information began in 2018 and were first denied by a federal district court judge. But an appeal led to the June 20 ruling allowing release of the ARCOS data.
The Washington Post detailed the legal battle in an August 2 story “How an epic legal battle brought a secret drug database to light.”
The University of Alabama study is funded by the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, sponsored by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
“In comparison to the rest of the state, these areas have the highest opioid prescription rate per 100 people, poverty rates, uninsured rates and limited access to healthcare,” the abstract for the 72-page UA proposal said of the four west Alabama counties.
“Addiction is a social infection, and it’s sweeping across the state,” Joshua Eyer, a multi-principal investigator on the project, told The Crimson White.
The main investigators for the study are Hee Yun Lee, associate dean for research and endowed academic chair in social work; Eyer, an assistant professor in the Capstone College of Nursing; and Hudnall, the associate director of the Institute of Business Analytics.