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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Fact Checker: Were More than a Million Doses of Oxycodone Prescribed in Rutland County Last Year?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 10:09 AM

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Each week in Fact Checker, reporters and editors from Seven Days and VTDigger.org will evaluate the veracity of statements and rate them on a five-point scale: True, Mostly True, Debatable, Mostly False and Udder Bull. This week's Fact Checker was written by Andy Bromage.

CLAIM: Last year, more than a million doses of Oxycodone were prescribed in Rutland County. That amounts to 17 pills for every man, woman and child in the county.
— Vermont Public Radio, October 15 

FACTS: This week’s Fact Checker investigates a number that popped up in a recent Vermont Public Radio report about the growing drug-addiction problem in Rutland. In her story, VPR reporter Nina Keck quoted Clay Gilbert, director of an outpatient treatment center in Rutland, relaying a jaw-dropping figure he heard from a pharmacist at a community forum.

The pharmacist, in turn, was referencing data gathered by the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System that suggested more than a million doses of opiates containing Oxycodone were prescribed in Rutland County in the previous year. Gilbert, of Evergreen Substance Abuse Services, translated that into layperson’s terms: “17 pills for every man, woman and child in the county.”

Contacted the day after the story ran, an official at the Vermont Department of Health initially told us the 1 million figure was wrong. But it turns out it’s more or less accurate. According to data provided by the DOH, 1,097,169 units of Oxycodone were dispensed in Rutland County in 2011. That would actually work out to 18 pills — not 17 — for every man, woman and child, according to the state’s own data.

But not all Oxycodone units are pills — the drug comes in liquid form as well as rectal suppositories. And a “dose” could mean one pill, one injection or three pills — depending on an individual patient’s weight, pain tolerance and other factors, say health officials. In a statement, the DOH wrote, “It’s important to remember that Oxycodone is a critical pain relief medication that is prescribed for valid medical reasons in most cases.” 

Of 6000 individuals who received the drug last year in Rutland County, 1594 received the “fast release” tablet form of the drug that is easiest to abuse, state data say. That means 2.6 percent of Rutland County residents got fast-release Oxycodone.

SCORE: The VPR story conflates dose and pill with unit in citing the 1 million figure, and the 17 pills-per-person stat is off, albeit not by much. Without broader context, the stats could give the impression that huge amounts of Oxycodone are being diverted onto the streets when in fact the drug is often used for legitimate medical purposes. For those reasons, we rate the claim “Mostly True.”

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