© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

Holes in supply chain regulation heightened opioid crisis, IU research says

An array of white pills, laid out on a flat surface, are shown.
Thought Catalog
The way prescription opioids are tracked contributed to the opioid epidemic, recent research shows.

A recent study from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business identifies an important factor in the opioid epidemic.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement last month. The company’s owners, the Sackler family, will not have immunity for its misleading marketing of OxyContin.

Indiana’s drug overdose dashboard reported that 930 people died from opioid prescription pain relievers in 2018. Last year, more than 1,500 people died.

IU Kelley School of Business research found another key piece that fueled the opioid epidemic is the way prescription opioids are tracked.

The Department of Drug Enforcement Administration monitors the prescription opioid supply using shipment data from distributors and manufacturers.

IU Kelley PhD student Iman Attari and Professor Jonathan Helm said supply chain complexity enabled large amounts of opioids to be distributed without being flagged as suspicious.

Pharmacies ordered smaller shipments from many suppliers, Attari said, making supply and distribution harder for the DEA to track.

He said pharmacies that increase their number of suppliers by one have an approximately 4% increase in their total dispensing after that.

The DEA also divides its monitoring into 23 geographical areas. So, a suspicious order in one region is not always reported to other regions.

Attari said a dispenser’s opioid distribution increased about 13% when it ordered from one additional geographic region.

Helm and Attari added public attention on the opioid crisis has focused on white, rural communities. But their research found that increased supply chain complexity was felt more acutely in areas with higher non-white populations.

Attari said that framing means allocation of resources and addiction treatment are not equitable.

“When the focus is on the white communities, there is like less monitoring, resources in the nonwhite communities,” he said. “And then these can be exploited by the supply chains.”

In a predominantly white area, a one-unit increase in supply chain complexity resulted in a 16% increase in opioid dispensing, according to Attari.

In a county with a 10% higher nonwhite population, the same one-unit increase in complexity leads to a 17-19% increase in dispensing for pharmacies.

Attari and Helm said a holistic understanding of prescription opioid supply chain could help the government improve its monitoring.

Can we count on your support?

Louisville Public Media depends on donations from members – generous people like you – for the majority of our funding. You can help make the next story possible with a donation of $10 or $20. We'll put your gift to work providing news and music for our diverse community.