South Carolina Governor Uses Executive Orders To Help Quell Opioid Crisis

Although it has not been hit as hard as some other states, the Governor of South Carolina issued an executive order to help restrict opioid prescriptions and form a response team to look for ways to fight the opioid crisis in his state.

In 2016 South Carolina had more than 600 opioid-related overdose deaths, nearly doubling the number of homicides (366) and drunken driving deaths (331) during the same period the year before. Twenty-three people died of opioid overdose in Beaufort County, South Carolina in 2017, tripling the number of opioid deaths in 2015 and 2016. According to county records, 17 deaths were either fentanyl-related, a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, or linked to carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer not tracked prior to 2016. There were only three fentanyl or carfentanil deaths in Beaufort County in 2016.

The governor announced the action at a press conference on December 20, 2017 at the state Emergency Operations Center.

Opioid Crisis Is A ‘Silent Hurricane’

“There’s a silent hurricane going on in our state that has hit us, and it’s getting worse. And it hits us every year. It’s called the opioid crisis,” said Governor Henry McMaster to explain the reasons for his action.

With the executive order, Governor McMaster is calling for state health officials to restrict opioid prescriptions to five days for post-operation pain and other acute needs for Medicaid patients. If a person needs more painkillers, then he or she will have to request it.  According to the Abuse Services’ Agency, doctors are currently writing post-operation painkiller prescriptions for up to 90 days.

McMaster noted that a person could become addicted to opioids in a few days and also pointed out that long-term prescriptions for short periods of pain can cause abuse.

The orders also command the state employee benefits system to limit the use of opioids on it health plans. In addition, the orders ask the state legislature to deliberate on making the limitations state law for all South Carolina residents.

In a related move, the governor declared a statewide public health emergency that permits state authorities including police and medical-based employees to more easily coordinate the emergency management.

State Congressman Personally Affected By Opioid Crisis

State Rep. Eric Bedingfield, chairman of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee and whose own son died due to a fentanyl overdose in 2016, was also present at the press conference. He noted that some segments of the community stigmatize opioid users. He countered, saying, “These people who find themselves addicted to this medication and even the illegal drugs are not morally corrupt individuals. These are people who have a disease and need help. We’ve got to remove the stigma surrounded by addiction, specifically opioid addiction, and let these people understand that we’re here for them.”

In 2014, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley created the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Center by executive order. Later in the year the center concluded that the use of a then-voluntary statewide prescription database was essential in battling OxyContin, Percocet, and other Opioid abuse.

In May of that year, the state legislature passed a law requiring that doctors consult with the center before writing a prescription.