As heroin bill awaits governor's approval, opioid crisis grows

Published: Jun. 9, 2017 at 8:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2017 at 10:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Federal Drug Administration is calling nationwide opioid abuse a crisis.

Because of the addiction and overdose epidemic sweeping the nation, the FDA has ordered pharmacies now to pull one painkiller, saying the drug Opana can be too addictive.

The Centers for Disease and Control reports there are more deaths from opioid overdoses that kill people than there are fatal car crashes.

South Carolina is dealt its share of opioid addiction and overdoses, including heroin deaths. That's fueled a committee of State House representatives to study the issues and has put some new laws on the books.

New laws include a strengthening of the drug take-back program, aimed at getting extra pain pills off the streets. And most recently on Tuesday, Governor Henry McMaster signed the bill to require doctors better monitor the painkiller prescriptions patients are on.

Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Director Sara Goldsby says there are many indicators of a growing problem in our state.

Goldsby has testified before lawmakers, urging them for rules on the books to help people overcome drug addiction and to stop the deaths from overdoses.

"We've got to do everything we can to eliminate those barriers for people who seriously need help," Goldsby said.

That means she supports the bill to gr ant immunity from jail for the drug user who dials 911 for their friend in need of the overdose antidote. The bill is ratified and sits on the governor's desk awaiting his approval.

"I think the goal is to save lives, and at the end of the day, we need to be focused on that. Thirty-eight other states have this," State Representative Russell Fry (R- Horry) said. "We've crafted this bill to accommodate law enforcement to make it easy on them, to put people back to being productive members of society and functioning members of society. And I think the bill is a layer of that that helps get us there."

Goldsby is glad doctors will now be required to record and monitor a patient's opioid painkiller prescriptions since she says painkiller pills can be the gateway to heroin abuse.

"So have a biological need to obtain an opioid and they will seek drugs any way they can, to get that need met, which means they will doctor shop," Goldsby said.

Goldsby believes there's still work to be done, however. She wants more access to addiction treatments through primary care doctors and more insurance coverage. She hopes people can understand the gravity of a biological need, which can develop from painkiller abuse and lead to years of dependency.

"Stigma is the biggest issue, not only for people living in recovery, but we have families right now who are afraid to admit they have a loved one who has a problem," she says.

Governor Henry McMaster has three days, including Friday and excluding Sunday, to sign or veto immunity bill S. 179 before it automatically becomes law.

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