The Governor’s Office, in conjunction with the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services and the S.C. House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee, has unveiled a new media campaign targeting opioid use. “Just Plain Killers” (www.justplainkillers.com).

The initiative is a big step forward in attempts to address the emerging opioid crisis our state and nation is experiencing. The initiative, combined with several recommendations from the S.C. House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee, and the increase in both federal and state funds for prevention and treatment, is needed to combat this overwhelming issue.

Conservative estimates show that in 2016, more than 42,000 people in the United States died due to an opioid overdose and 40 percent of those were due to prescription opioids. In South Carolina during 2016, there were 550 deaths attributed to opioid overdose. That number surpasses the number of homicides in South Carolina in 2016.

Among the S.C. House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee recommendations was limiting opioid prescriptions, particularly to those post-surgery or in the emergency room. We know that many people who become addicted to opioids started with a prescription.

Because of the highly addictive properties of painkillers, it is incumbent of physicians to examine their prescribing practices and query the South Carolina Reporting & Identification Prescription Tracking System (SCRIPTS) database before prescribing any medication to ensure their patients are not taking other medications from other physicians that would pose a danger to the patient. This can ensure coordinated care between physicians.

In 2016, nearly 5,000,000 prescriptions for opioids were dispensed in South Carolina. That is staggering and is, in essence, one prescription for every person in South Carolina. Orangeburg County mirrored the state in that 85,000 opioid prescriptions were dispensed with a population of 89,000. Bamberg County, with a population of roughly 14,900, had just over 15,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed, while Calhoun County was significantly less with a population of roughly 14,800 and only 1,700 opioid prescriptions dispensed.

The good news is that both the S.C. Legislature and federal government have recognized the problem and appropriated funding to help prevent and treat individuals with an opiate addiction. The S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, through both state and federal appropriations, has made funding for services and lifesaving medications available to those who do not have the ability to pay for them.

Through Medication Assisted Treatment, utilizing medications such as methadone, buprenorphine (common brand names are Suboxone, Zubsolv, and Bunavail) or naltrexone (brand names Vivitrol and Revia) in conjunction with counseling, the opioid addicted individual is able to mitigate the severe withdrawal, block the effects of the opioid, and learn the skills needed to enter into recovery.

Locally at the Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, we have been providing Medication Assisted Treatment for 6-plus years and have seen tremendous results. Individuals we would have normally had to send to a detox or residential program, we can now treat locally on an outpatient basis where they can continue to work and become immersed in our counseling services and the local self-help groups.

In addition, a medication known as Naloxone that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose is being made available to law enforcement and first responders across South Carolina. In 2016, Naloxone was administered 6,400 times by emergency personnel with 78 occurrences happening in our tri-county area. That’s 78 lives saved in Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun County.

We have a long way to go in South Carolina and the United States to stem the tide of this growing opioid crisis. Lives are being lost at a staggering rate. Families are being torn apart and communities are experiencing huge voids in the workforce due this epidemic.

The “Just Plain Killers” initiative is a step forward to create awareness, educate and provide resources to help. But that campaign will only be effective if everyone takes an active role.

Here are some steps each person can take to help:

• Go to www.justplainkillers.com to educate yourself and then share that site with your friends and family.

• Talk to your children about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs and pay attention to their behavior.

• Go through your medicine cabinet and lock up your medications. For those that are expired or not needed, find a prescription disposal site. If there is not one near you, put them in a plastic bag and mix with kitty litter or used coffee grounds and take to the trash dump. (Do not flush them down the toilet).

• If you are currently prescribed painkillers, talk with your doctor about possible alternatives.

• If you have a loved one who is taking prescription painkillers, help educate them of the dangers. If they are abusing them, help them seek assistance with a professional.

With offices in Orangeburg, Santee, Bamberg and St. Matthews, the Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse is conveniently located and able to assist. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 803-536-4900 or visit www.tccada.com.

Mike Dennis is executive director of the Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

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