Several House Republicans filed a variety of bills Wednesday to stymie the growing opioid prescription drug abuse and heroin problem in South Carolina.
The group said in a State House press conference that the 10 bills they filed would increase drug abuse prevention, require prescribers to participate in the state's drug monitoring program and provide immunity for drug users who call for help if a fellow user is overdosing--a condition is reversible with treatment.
One of the most vocal advocates for the bills is Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, who lost his 26-year-old son Joshua to an overdose nearly a year ago.
"My son struggled with a pill problem that turned into a heroin problem, which eventually took him from the Earth," Bedingfield said. "I never thought my family would be a family affected by this type of problem."
Bedingfield's story of loss has become more common across the country, as many struggle with addictive and powerful painkillers. Many go from using painkillers to treat pain from injuries to becoming addicted and using the cheaper, more readily available illicit drug heroin.
A “Good Samaritan” bill is part of the package and would give a drug user limited immunity from prosecution to report a drug overdose of another user.
"I want to remove that fear from those people who are afflicted by addiction because I know it will save lives," Bedingfield said.
Last year, lawmakers expanded the availability of the opioid overdose antidote nasal spray drug called naloxone. The drug, which reverses the effects of opioids if administered quickly, is now available at drug stores without a prescription for people who are at high risk for opioid overdoses.
But Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville, said those who prescribe opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, need to be required to report those prescriptions to the state drug monitoring database, known as SCRIPTS.
"It touches home real quick," Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Columbia, said about the growing problem.
According to Sara Goldsby, acting director of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, prescription misuse of opioid drugs and heroin abuse led to 594 deaths in 2015.
"We've seen an uptick in overdose deaths," Goldsby said earlier this month at Gov. Henry McMaster's Cabinet meeting. "We expect that later this year, we'll see over 600 deaths related to that."
The increase in deaths and those seeking drug counseling goes hand in hand with the increase of powerful, synthetic opiate called fentanyl, which is primarily used for cancer patients with extreme pain.
"We continue to see more and more heroin coming into our state," State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said. "Cheap heroin, very high-quality heroin coming into our state, and this fentanyl coming from China. It's very deadly."
"It's unlike anything we've really ever experienced," Keel said.