State law change leads to expansion of opioid overdose treatment

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 5:02 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2022 at 6:09 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Drug overdose-related deaths continue to rise in South Carolina and that’s why a state law now makes it easier to distribute opioid overdose medication.

A South Carolina law passed this year allows healthcare workers to pass out live-saving opioid treatment like Narcan to people struggling with addiction as well as their caregivers. The law also takes away any liability on healthcare workers as long as they give the medicine in accordance with that law.

Lee Dutton is the Director of Government Affairs at the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. He says the more access medical professionals and people have to overdose reversals the better.

“In an emergency situation having access to an opioid overdose reversal medication can mean the difference between a life saved and a life lost,” Dutton says.

The most recent report from the Department of Health and Environmental Control states the total number of all drug overdoses increased by 53 percent across the state, from 1,131 to 1,734 from 2019 to 2020. That’s why officials say access to reversal medication is essential.

S.C. State Senator Sandy Senn sponsored the bill that includes the opioid amendment.

“This is something quite frankly I think that needs to be in every single household,” Senn says. “You may think that you are immune to someone dying from fentanyl or opioid abuse, but a lot of them basically they were prescribed it and had a bad reaction or illegal fentanyl is being placed in all sorts of drugs and made to look like Xanax, Valium, Adderall, and it is those deaths that often those people have no idea what they’re taking and that’s something that we need to stop.”

At MUSC, leaders explain that the law gives emergency room staff and people struggling with addiction lifesaving access to the medication. The wording in the law also removes barriers concerning lawsuits that stopped some administration of the medicine in the past.

Dr. Kelly Barth, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor, commended frontline workers who she says are constantly providing life-saving treatment to patients. She says this law gives them more tools and opportunities to do that.

“It’s alarming and I think many times traumatizing for our healthcare workers who see people who have come very close to death and either been revived and sometimes they do arrive at the emergency department and they cannot be revived,” Barth says. “So empowering them to be able to do something gives them strength in the midst of the crisis.”

The cost of funding opioid relief programs is financially on the hospitals. MUSC says it is a worthwhile investment in saving lives and creating a stronger and healthier community.