Hometown Legislative Action Day targets opioid abuse

​"There wasn't a crack problem until there was a crack supply." That somber statement led off a State Law Enforcement Division official's presentation at the Municipal Association's fall forum for city managers and administrators. The official, Frank O'Neal, spent 30 years working in the state agency's narcotics enforcement unit.

"Price, availability and tolerance have increased prescription drug use," he said.

Statistics from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control illustrate South Carolina's growing epidemic.

  • In 2016, 550 people died from a drug overdose with prescription opioid drugs listed on the death certificate, up 7 percent from 2015 and up 18 percent from 2014.
  • Fatal overdoses involving heroin increased by 67 percent from 2014 to 2015.
  • In 2015, the number of deaths from heroin and opioid overdoses in South Carolina surpassed the number of homicides.
  • In 2016, more than 5 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed statewide. South Carolina has a total population of 4.9 million people.

O'Neal's presentation highlighted many of the issues law enforcement faces when working to combat this epidemic:

  • Users take advantage of "pizza style" delivery of heroin, in which a buyer calls a dealer, and the drug is dispatched for delivery as easily as ordering a pizza.
  • It's impossible for law enforcement and policy makers to stay on top of all the variations of new drugs flooding the market.
  • Gathering data about where the drug incidents are occurring is critical because law enforcement can't deploy resources without knowing exactly where the problems are.
  • This is a lucrative business. $6,000 – $7,000 worth of heroin can yield $80,000 when sold.
  • Ninety-two percent of heroin users first used marijuana.
  • Fifty-seven percent of people who use heroin first used opioids.
  • Eighty percent of new heroin abusers were prescription drug users.
  • Availability of heroin is increasing because of a reliable low-cost supply coming from Mexico.

"The No.1 thing we can do to combat this epidemic is educate our kids," O'Neal stressed at the end of his presentation. "If we are quiet, this epidemic won't go away."

One tool law enforcement is using to combat this growing problem is the opioid antidote called naloxone (the generic name for NARCAN®). Naloxone almost immediately halts the effects of an overdose in progress.

DHEC's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services has regulated and monitored paramedic usage of naloxone since the 1970s. The bureau recently authorized first responders to carry and use naloxone.

In 2015, emergency personnel in South Carolina administered naloxone 4,600 times. That number increased 39 percent in 2016.

After the South Carolina Overdose Prevention Act became law in 2015, DHEC, in collaboration with the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office and the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, created the Law Enforcement Officer Naloxone program. The program's goal is to provide comprehensive training to law enforcement agencies that focuses on identification, treatment and reporting of overdoses attributed to opioids. It is important to train law enforcement officers because they are frequently the first emergency responders to arrive on the scene when response time is critical to saving lives.

Learn more about what South Carolina is doing to combat the opioid epidemic on Tuesday, February 6, at 3:15 p.m., at the Municipal Association's 2018 Hometown Legislative Action Day.

The preregistration deadline for HLAD on February 6 and Municipal Elected Officials Institute on February 7 is Tuesday, January 23.

The Columbia Marriott is sold out. The closest hotel to the Marriott is the Sheraton on Main Street. Rooms will be booked at the going rate. The Association has  a group rate of $144 per night at the Hyatt Place on Lady Street. The rate at the Hyatt Place is available until January 26 or the hotel sells out. (Hyatt Place Hotel reservations)