All opioids prescribed in South Carolina are now required to be reported to the state monitoring program, thanks to a bill that Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law last month.
The law is one of several pieces of legislation lawmakers pushed this year as they work to stymie the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic. Officials hope the new law will slow the growth of the problem, which is rooted in prescription painkiller abuse.
The new law will require medical professionals to report patient prescriptions and check the state database before prescribing painkillers. Reporting will help spot suspicious patient habits, such as obtaining painkiller prescriptions from multiple doctors.
“Everyone knows you cannot manage a problem or situation unless you can measure it,” McMaster said during a ceremonial bill signing Tuesday. “And this new law will allow the monitoring of controlled substances by a whole range of practitioners.”
Three out of four people who used heroin in the last year misused opioids first. The Department of Health and Environmental Control found 565 died from opioid overdoses in 2015, an 11 percent increase from the year before. Officials admit overdose numbers are low, due to reporting challenges.
Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, lost his son to opioid abuse after he got hooked on painkillers following an injury. The Upstate Republican has been a driving force behind a slate of bills introduced by House members to address the epidemic this year. He and other supporters stood alongside McMaster Tuesday as he ceremonially signed the bill.
“This is a major piece of that particular project,” Bedingfield said about other pending bills. “Our goal here is to save lives and to protect people.”
Bedingfield also chairs a committee looking into all aspects of the opioid crisis afflicting the state, such as future treatment needs and additional legislation.
Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville, worked on the bill for more than a year to require prescribers to check the South Carolina Reporting and Identification Prescription Tracking System, or SCRIPTS, before prescribing.
“It’s going to give the state and law enforcement the opportunity to look at prescribing patterns by physicians and begin to root out some of the problems,” Henderson said.
Prior to the law, reporting and checking SCRIPTS was voluntary; now South Carolina joins 26 other states in mandatory reporting.
Another key piece of legislation will soon hit McMaster’s desk after lawmakers easily passed a bill on their last day of session Tuesday.
A conference committee made of House and Senate members agreed to a version of a Good Samaritan bill to limit immunity for those who report drug overdoses. The bill passed both chambers later in the day.
“We want people who ingest too many drugs and need medical attention to be able to get it without fear that they are going to go to jail,” Hutto said. “This puts them in that choice: go to jail or get treatment. We want them to get treatment.”
Lawmakers also sent McMaster the $8 billion which includes $1.5 million for drug treatment. The state also received a $6.5 million grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to provide assistance for treatment costs, recovery, training, outreach and better integration of SCRIPTS with electronic medical records.
The General Assembly, in previous years, increased access to the opioid antidote naloxone for first responders and for patients to obtain it without a prescription. DHEC reported that EMS personnel administered naloxone 6,400 times in 2016.