House Speaker Jay Lucas charged a legislative panel studying the growing epidemic of opioid abuse with returning “hope to those who need it in this state.”
During the inaugural meeting of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee, Lucas, R-Darlington, addressed the panel, telling legislators is their “job to figure out how to best protect South Carolinians from this disease.”
“One of our jobs as legislators is to help people,” Lucas said. “We cannot sit back and watch this growing epidemic take more lives and destroy more families in South Carolina.”
Sara Goldsby, the acting director of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, presented the panel with a series of statistics that have long worried those in the treatment and law enforcement communities, such as the rising number of deaths nationwide that are related to opioid abuse.
Goldsby said that three out of four people who use heroin had misused opioids first. She also presented legislators with a map that showed how the Upstate and the coast surrounding Horry County has been most impacted by opioid abuse.
“This is not an issue that any one of us can address alone,” Goldsby said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
As of 11 a.m., Shelly Kelly, the director of health regulation at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, was offering information to the panel whose meeting was still continuing.
Among the statistics offered, Kelly said there was a 39 percent increase in use by first responders of Naloxone from 2015 to 2016, a drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose.
More than a dozen House members were appointed to the House panel by Lucas. It’s chairman – Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville – has a personal connection to the opioid epidemic. His 26-year-old son, Joshua, died in 2016, when he relapsed and overdosed on a variant of fentanyl, a synthetically produced opioid that is about 50 times stronger than heroin.
The use of fentanyl or “China white” has been on the rise in South Carolina in recent years, according to a report released earlier this year. In its purest form, the increasingly popular synthetic drug can kill someone by just touching it.
As of late 2016, heroin arrests were set to outpace arrests for cocaine and crack in Richland County. There is no simple profile of a heroin user, in part because so many start out as prescription pill abusers.
Check back for updates to this developing story.
SOUTH CAROLINA OPIOID-RELATED DEATHS
573 in 2015
504 in 2014
SOURCE: The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control