COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA)- South Carolina lawmakers and state agencies are still trying to get a grapple on the opioid epidemic in the state; an issue Governor McMaster calls a “silent hurricane”
In the past three years, the number of deaths related to opioids has increased in the state. Tuesday, the House Opioid Prevention Study Committee had a visit from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services to learn more about national strategies and resources.
The Chief Medical Officer for the US DHHS, Dr. Vanila Singh, recapped the early rise of opioids and addiction for the governor and the group of lawmakers.
In the last 20 years, 183,000 people in the US have died from opioid overdose.
And the numbers are getting worse in South Carolina. In 2014 there were 508 victims compared to 748 in 2017, an increase of nearly 50%.
“We’re all familiar with hurricanes but you can see them coming, but this is like a hurricane that comes through and causes the damage and you don’t even see it,” said Governor Henry McMaster.
The state has passed more than a dozen policies to address the issue. Laws dictate how long an opioid prescription can be and they require doctors to track a patient’s prescription history.
Sara Goldsby, the director of the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services was also at the meeting to update lawmakers on trends we are seeing in the state.
“The number of queries that prescribers are pulling looking at the opioid and other narcotics prescribed to their patients is at 2.6 million just last month compared to half a million before the law was passed.”
First responders have been keeping some patients alive with increased use of overdose reversal drugs. The opioid overdose reversal drug, Naxolone, has been administered by law enforcement 249 times this year. EMS has used the antidote more than 4000 times.
“Something as simple as Naloxone having the antidote that they can administer.. and thanks to the governor for putting money in the budget so officers can have this tool on their belt so when they get to a scene they can get them out of that,” added Rep. Chris Wooten, member of the special committee.
Doctors and federal experts say the key is a new view of when it’s appropriate for a doctor to prescribe opiate painkillers.
Dr. Singh continued, “The only time people are legitimately exposed to opioids is when they do have pain in the acute setting. you could twist your ankle, have surgery.”
Back in February, 16 counties participated in a law enforcement drug take back program. Greenville County officers took back more than 1000 pounds of unused prescriptions.
Fatality numbers for opioid related deaths last year have not come back just yet. The Department of Health and Environmental Control is expected to release those numbers in August.
Officials say because of the opioid addiction infectious diseases, methamphetamine, and cocaine use are also on the rise.