Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday declared a statewide public health emergency as part of an effort to curb the rising death toll of opioid abuse in South Carolina.
The Richland Republican also secured commitments from two state agencies to limit the number of highly addictive opioid pills some S.C. patients can be prescribed for short-term pain or after surgery. Under McMaster’s order, patients covered by Medicaid or the state health plan can get a five-day supply of the medication but must return to a doctor for more.
“Some people walk out of the hospital with 60 or 90 pills in one prescription, and they don’t need that many,” McMaster said Monday, adding those extra pills can end up on the street. “They’re carrying around, potentially, an addiction for somebody else.”
Flanked by legislators, law enforcement chiefs and state agency heads at the state’s Emergency Management Division headquarters, McMaster announced that opioid-related overdoses in South Carolina rose to 616 in 2016 from 504 in 2014.
Last year, McMaster said, opioids, which include painkillers like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin, were responsible for more S.C. deaths than drunk driving – 331 – or homicide – 366.
McMaster on Monday also commissioned an “Opioid Emergency Response Team” of state agencies, health care professionals and law enforcement leaders to coordinate the state’s efforts to curb opioid addiction and abuse, starting Tuesday.
The governor’s intentions mirror a push from lawmakers to crack down on opioid abuse. S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, created a legislative panel earlier this year to study the problem and make recommendations. Those proposals could be considered when lawmakers return to Columbia in January.
Lawmakers in 2015 passed a law allowing doctors to prescribe an opioid overdose antidote to first responders. That drug has saved 149 S.C. residents from overdoses so far, according to Sara Goldsby, director of the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.