House Speaker Jay Lucas has announced the creation of a study committee that will look into how to curb the growing use of opioids in South Carolina.
Lucas, R-Darlington, appointed Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, as the chairman of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee, adding he believed Bedingfield “is unquestionably the best choice for the job given his dedication to fighting opioid abuse.”
Bedingfield has a personal connection to the opioid epidemic. He lost his 26-year-old son, Joshua, in 2016, when he relapsed and overdosed on a variant of fentanyl, a synthetically produced opioid that is about 50 times stronger than heroin.
“To me personally, this is the number one health and family issue facing South Carolina and our nation,” Bedingfield said in a statement. “It is vital that we as leaders in South Carolina do all we can to address this epidemic. Through me, my son will save lives even in death.”
More than a dozen members will serve on the panel, including Reps. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville, and Russell Fry, R-Horry, who, together, announced in February the filing of 10 bills aimed at addressing an increase in opioid-related deaths. Several of the bills already have been passed by the House and are making their way through the Senate.
The creation of the study committee comes as opioid-related deaths rise in South Carolina and nationwide. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control attributed 573 deaths in 2015 to opioid-related abuse, 69 more than in 2014. The study committee will meet through the end of session and after.
“Opioid abuse and addiction is a rapidly growing epidemic that must be curtailed before it destroys more families and lives in South Carolina,” said Lucas in a statement. “This issue affects every community and does not discriminate against race, age, gender, socioeconomic class or profession.””