The tiny population of Kermit, W.Va., could easily fit into most Greater Akron high school gyms.

Yet in just 10 months, one of the biggest drug companies in the U.S. shipped more than 3 million prescription opioids to a single pharmacy there.

That works out to nearly 10,000 pills per day for the 400 people who call Kermit home.

That revelation and others were revealed this week in a 324-page congressional report on prescription pill dumping in West Virginia.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee spent 18 months investigating and concluded prescription drug distributors and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration failed to stop a surge of painkillers flowing into West Virginia despite clear warnings that the pills were being misused.

As 2018 winds down, Summit County residents and the nation continue their search for hope, answers and empathy amid the evolving drug crisis that has ravaged so many families.

Hollywood is listening.

Blockbuster actress Julia Roberts is the mother of a 19-year-old son battling addiction in “Ben is Back” (now showing at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights).

In the film, Roberts’ son unexpectedly shows up at home on Christmas Eve after 77 days of in-patient treatment following a heroin overdose.

The story is limited to what happens over the next 24 hours as Roberts’ character struggles with her unconditional love for her son and her recent memories of his addiction and overdose.

Critics have described the film as “raw” and “authentic.” Its director has said he hopes the film — which is fiction — offers comfort to those impacted by addiction and helps shatter the stigma and shame often attached to the disease.

Closer to home and reality, about 1,500 lawsuits against drug companies over the opioid epidemic — including those filed by the city of Akron and Summit County government — move forward.

A federal judge in Cleveland who is handling the cases this week declined to throw out racketeering, conspiracy and other claims made in the lawsuits against drug companies.

The lawsuits not only accuse the drug companies of contributing to the addiction of millions of Americans to prescription opioids, but to “the foreseeable result that many of those addicted would turn to street drugs,” U.S. District Court Judge Dan A. Polster wrote.

"Whether Plaintiffs can prove any of these allegations remains to be seen, but this Court holds that they will have that opportunity,” the judge wrote, labeling the opioid epidemic a “man-made plague, twenty years in the making.”

“The pain, death, and heartache it has wrought cannot be overstated,” Polster said in his ruling.

Settlement talks continue in the cases, but if no agreement is reached, the litigation is slated for trial in September.

Overdoses in Summit County this year have dropped, but remain far above what they were before the opioid crisis began.

Unlike the the movie “Ben is Back” — the character battling heroin addiction is 19 — most people who overdose in Summit County are older.

Between Dec. 14 and Dec. 20, Summit County Public Health reported that 27 people sought emergency room help after overdosing. Their average age was 33.7.

Nearly 67 percent were men and more than 92 percent were white.

The numbers closely mirror what was going on a year ago.

As Christmas approached in 2017, 28 Summit County residents sought overdose treatment during the same time frame, Dec. 15-21.

But at that time, the December overdoses marked a sizable drop to about half the overdoses reported just months before that year.

In 2018, the numbers of overdoses at times dipped lower still as people sought treatment or turned to other drugs like methamphetamine.

But those who work with drug users say the opioid crisis is not over. It just continues to evolve.

 

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.