Pharmacies in Clay County, Tennesse, caught the attention of federal agents by buying enough drugs to “provide 270 pain pills for every man, woman, and child” living there, WZTV-TV reported.
The Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating the area last year. The government agency tracks how controlled substances move throughout the country and uses databases to flag locations and physicians with high numbers of prescriptions.
How many people live there?
Clay County has just 7,800 residents. Its only city, Celina, has “a few antique stores, Churches of Christ, diners, and four pharmacies,” according to the TV station.
The DEA says the pharmacies bought a total of 1.5 million pain pills last year.
“Basically it comes out to being around 270 pills per person, for every man, woman, and child, which is impossible,” Martin Reed, division program manager DEA, told the TV station.
Tara Anderson, owner of Anderson Hometown Pharmacy, claims she did nothing wrong.
“I haven’t done anything I’m trying to hide,” Anderson told the news outlet.
She owns one of the Celina drug stores that received a surprise inspection by the DEA on Aug. 27, according to the report.
Agents conducted an audit that compared what was prescribed to what drugs the stores had in stock.
Anderson told the TV station the pain medication was prescribed due to the county’s aging workforce of manual laborers. As they’ve grown older, their bodies are feeling the strain of years of wear and tear, she said.
The business owner also claims her customers come from local prescribers. But doctors in Clay County told the TV station it isn’t them.
“I know the four doctors in the county and none of us prescribe hardly anything,” Dr. Gilbert Ghearing told the TV station. “Most of the prescriptions filled here are prescribed by doctors outside the county; we don’t have any pain clinics here.”
What is the outcome?
Reed told the news outlet the DEA's investigation is continuing.
“We’re not really sure where this is headed, but we can tell you it’s not normal for a small population to be giving out that many pills in such a small area,” he said.
The end result could include fines, criminal charges, or closure of the pharmacies.
The investigation is expected to be completed within the next few weeks.
About 72,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses last year, roughly four times the number of people who died from homicide, according to the report.