Fact Sheet: Prescription Distribution – Lewiston Sun Journal

METHODOLOGY

The Sun Journal analyzed data from Maine’s Prescription Monitoring Program, or PMP, from 2016 to 2021; and data from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s Consolidated Orders and Reports Automation System, or ARCOS, from 2006 to 2014.

Following a court order in 2019, The Washington Post gained access to data from 2006 to 2014 from the ARCOS database. The court order only disclosed those eight years of records. The Sun Journal was able to obtain and analyze the ARCOS data because The Post made the raw data available to the public.

The Sun Journal also analyzed data from Maine’s Prescription Monitoring Program, which it was able to access through a Freedom of Access Act request and a signed data-sharing agreement with the database administrators, the Department of Maine Health and Human Services. Because the PMP contains patient information, the Sun Journal could only access records identifying the pharmacy at which a prescription was filled, but no information identifying the patient or prescriber.

Because the court order only disclosed certain years of ARCOS data and Maine law governing the PMP requires DHHS to destroy data older than six years, the Sun Journal was unable to access the 2015 data.

The ARCOS and PMP databases do not correspond exactly line by line: ARCOS data describes shipments of sales to buyers (pharmacies and practitioners, among others), while PMP data describes singular transactions in which a prescription is filled and dispensed to a patient in a pharmacy. Detailed raw data describes a single buyer transaction.

To account for these differences, the Sun Journal analysis includes only transactions of tablets or capsules (pills) of oxycodone and hydrocodone at retail pharmacies or drugstore chains in Maine. Hospital pharmacies, out-of-state mail order pharmacies, and practitioners, for example, were not included.

The analysis looked at the number of pain medications flowing in and out of Maine pharmacies per year and calculated a rate of medications per person by county and by individual pharmacy. In 2011, for example, a total of 6,358,650 oxycodone and hydrocodone tablets were dispensed through pharmacies in Androscoggin County, which equals 59 tablets per county resident after adjusting for population.

From 2006 to 2014, the United States DEA recorded 61,232,334 pain pills that went into Androscoggin County, enough for an average of 47 pills per person each year.

In addition to adjusting for population, the pills per person rate for individual pharmacies is adjusted for the number of pharmacies in each county per year to account for rural areas of the state and/or areas where there may not be many pharmacies.


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