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Opioid deaths on the rise locally Governor declares public health emergency statewide (copy)

The Berkeley Independent - 12/22/2017

Millions nationwide are now affected by an opioid epidemic. The scourge has gone especially deep and taken root in small towns and rural areas where, not long ago a widespread drug problem would have seemed impossible.

Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster declared a statewide public health emergency to battle the opioid epidemic. State law defines a “Public Health Emergency” as the occurrence or imminent risk of a qualifying health condition.

The law states those health conditions can include things like natural disasters, an illness or health condition that may be caused by terrorism, epidemic or pandemic disease, posing a substantial risk of a significant number of human fatalities, widespread illness, or serious economic impact.

The crisis is like a natural disaster in slow motion. Declaring such a health emergency will give public health agencies and law enforcement additional powers to act and respond on a much larger scale.

Once a month for the next six months the Opioid Emergency Response Team consisting of state and federal law enforcement, state health regulatory agencies and health care providers will evaluate new information and outcomes to develop a better plan of action.

The governor also issued an additional executive order directing the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to limit initial opioid prescriptions for acute and post-operative pain to a maximum of five days for state Medicaid recipients, those on the state health plan will be included as well.

Officials are looking to first cut down on the number of prescriptions for the powerful painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine and methadone.

Local numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that in Berkeley County there are 59 prescriptions for every 100 people, Charleston County has 76 per 100, Dorchester County is higher with 101 prescriptions per 100 people.

Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said so far this year there have been 24 overdose deaths.

“All different age groups,” he said. “We probably see one every week or week and a half.”

And it may get much worse very soon. One state official said at the governor’s press conference that South Carolina has not yet reached the peak of the opioid crisis.

The trends validate the warning. “The issue is still there,” said Berkeley County’s EMS Chief Matthew Lindewireh.

“It’s still not at the level in other areas of the nation but we are starting to see more frequent calls for service for an opioid type problem.”

If the crisis continues to follow the same pattern, like it has in other parts of the country, more powerful and dangerous drugs are on the way.

“I think we will start to see the more potent types of mixtures in the heroin, one called ‘White China’ is very bad,” Lindewireh said. “There are a couple other ones out there, they are most potent when they mixed with something.”


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