A group of Republican state representatives, including Greenville’s Phyllis Henderson and Eric Bedingfield, has introduced 10 pieces of legislation to curb South Carolina’s growing opioid and heroin epidemic.
“We’re taking a comprehensive approach to resolve the issue, focusing on many aspects outlined in the Task Force recommendations a few years ago and looking at what other states have successfully done,” said Rep. Russell Fry of Myrtle Beach, who is also sponsoring the bills.
One of the bills, if approved, would require high school students to receive instruction and complete coursework on drug abuse. And a “Good Samaritan” law would provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug users who seek medical assistance for someone who experiences a drug or alcohol-related overdose.
South Carolina is the only state that doesn’t have a “Good Samaritan” law.
Another bill would require doctors to participate in a prescription drug database that would monitor how many opioid medications their patients were prescribed by other physicians, according to Henderson. The state already has a prescription drug tracking system, but only requires physicians in the Medicaid program to participate.
Henderson, Bedingfield, Fry, and Rep. Chip Huggins of Lexington presented the bills during a press conference at the Statehouse last month. The group had spent months studying the issue and discussing various aspects of the bills with stakeholders, according to Henderson.
“It’s been a real team effort here and we want input from everyone. I really wanted to work on our prescription drug monitoring program in South Carolina, so we all started the conversation about how to improve it. We seek advice and ideas from everyone. Our goal is to fix the issue,” Henderson said.
Other bills introduced by the group would require health care professionals to complete coursework on the prescription and monitoring of controlled substances and would require them to report to the Department of Social Services when a fetus is exposed to alcohol or controlled substances in the womb.
“The opioid epidemic in South Carolina is real, and until we get it under control, it will only get worse,” Huggins said.
South Carolina ranks in the highest quartile for painkiller prescriptions per person and has seen prescriptions increase each year. Also, South Carolinians are using heroin at much higher levels, the lawmakers said in a prepared statement.
According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, opioid-related deaths across South Carolina increased from 237 in 2013 to 516 in 2014. In 2015, more than 600 people died from opioid and heroin overdoses.
“It’s a huge issue not only in Horry County, but all over South Carolina, affecting all segments of our society. I have personally watched it destroy families and cripple small businesses. It’s time we address it,” Fry said.
The epidemic hits close to home for Bedingfield. Last year, his 26-year-old son Josh died after overdosing on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
“My family and I watched addiction eventually take our oldest son away. His death, and my desire to help others, has led me to seek solutions. … My eyes are wide open, and it’s time to think like those who are hurting,” Bedingfield said.
The group plans to file more bills this spring. “We wanted to get the ball rolling,” Bedingfield said. “This is just the first set.”
Henderson said those bills would “have to do with criminal penalties on the law enforcement side of things.”