COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order Monday establishing an emergency response team to battle the opioid crisis in South Carolina.
"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," he said at a Monday morning news conference.
His executive order calls for limiting some pain medications because he says addiction to prescription drugs accounts for nearly half of overdose deaths. He announced his order on state health services to limit prescriptions for acute and post-operative pain to five days.
McMaster cited examples of people leaving an acute care facility with three months' worth of pills in situations where they should only need painkillers for three to five days.
"We have to be sure that those pills don't get out on the market," McMaster said.
The governor said that opioid overdose deaths increased by 21 percent in South Carolina from 2014 to 2016 - with 67 percent of those deaths caused by heroin overdoses. He said that means deaths from this type of drugs have outpaced deaths from drunk driving and murder.
One state representative who's also a father whose son died from an overdose says a bill will be introduced this session to make the five-day prescription limit state law.
"We heard case after case around the state when we were holding our public hearings of folks who went in to have a wisdom tooth pulled and left with a 30-day [prescription]," Greenville Rep. Eric Bedingfield said. "Think about that for a second - a 30-day script, for a tooth being pulled."
"There is a high amount of diversion when people are leaving an acute care facility with that many pills," Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Director Sara Goldsby said.
The executive order also allows him to bring the full power of the state's emergency management infrastructure, health care apparatus and law enforcement resources together. McMaster announced the establishment of an Opioid Emergency Response Team to be led by Goldsby and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.
Goldsby said more than 4,000 law enforcement officers across the Palmetto State have administered an antidote to drug overdose victims.
Lawmakers have already passed some new state mandates meant to stop the epidemic. Doctors are required to monitor patients through a prescription drug database when prescribing opioids, as of last spring.