In December, Gov. Henry McMaster, calling opioid abuse a “silent hurricane going on in our state,” took several actions including limiting opioid prescriptions under two state programs.

He declared a statewide public health emergency that allows authorities to more easily coordinate emergency management, health care and law enforcement resources.

The governor also created the state Opioid Emergency Response Team, which has been tasked with utilizing South Carolina’s emergency management infrastructure developing a statewide plan for addressing the crisis.

Six months later, McMaster says the state has made progress in a dual crisis – for health care and law enforcement.

Most recently, the governor signed into law nine bills passed by the General Assembly in 2018 related to opioids:

  • H.3819: Prescriptions to minors -- Requires that doctors speak with minors in educating them and their families before prescribing opioids. It requires a consent form to be signed by a minor’s parent/guardian after the doctor discusses the opioids that are being prescribed.
  • H.3822: Controlled substance schedules – The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control must report any changes made to the schedules listing controlled substances and the addition, deletion or rescheduling of a substance.
  • H.3826: Prescriptions -- Requires DHEC to develop the form and content for a counterfeit-resistant prescription blank, which must be used by practitioners for the purpose of prescribing a controlled substance.
  • H.4117: Confidentiality exceptions -- Allows DHEC to release data from the Prescription Monitoring Program to a drug court official seeking information related to a specific case involving a designated person.
  • H.4487: Controlled substances, scheduling -- Clarifies that DHEC can continue to amend the list of controlled substances to conform to scheduling changes by the Drug Enforcement Administration, but must forward copies of the change to officials in the legislature. DHEC must post the schedules on the department's website indicating the change and specifying the effective date.
  • H.4488: Confidentiality exceptions -- Authorizes DHEC to provide data in the Prescription Monitoring Program to a coroner, deputy coroner, medical examiner or deputy medical examiner involved in a specific inquiry into the cause and manner of death of a designated person.
  • H.4600: Opioid antidote, prescriptions to community organizations -- Adds a section to the South Carolina Opioid Prevention Act stating that a prescriber may directly or by standing order prescribe an opioid antidote (such as Naloxone) to a community distributor for the purpose of distributing the antidote to caregivers of people who are at risk of overdosing and to people who know that they have the potential to overdose.
  • H.4601: Addiction counselors -- Requires anyone representing himself as an addiction counselor to be licensed and establishes requirements for licensure.
  • S.918: Opioid prescriptions, limits, prescription report cards -- Establishes a seven-day limit on the initial prescription of opioids for acute pain management or post-operative pain management. Exceptions are specified and include cancer and hospice care.

Opioid overdoses caused 616 deaths in South Carolina in 2016, nearly double the state's 366 homicides and 331 drunken driving deaths. The state had to act.

Addressing opioid abuse as an emergency was overdue in South Carolina much the same as across the country. New actions and laws can save lives and prevent more people from becoming addicted to the drugs.

But as McMaster said, "We’re making great progress, but this is only the beginning – certainly not the end.”

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