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Bills aimed at curbing prescription painkiller abuse

House Republicans filed 10 proposals Wednesday aimed at curbing South Carolina's rampant prescription painkiller problem and promised more legislation would follow. "We wanted to get the ball rolling. This is just the first step," said Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, one of four Republicans who have been working on the legislation for months. For him, it's personal. Bedingfield's oldest son died at age 26 last year after a six-year-long battle with opioid addiction that began with a high school soccer injury. An addiction to prescription pills turned into a heroin problem he couldn't shake, despite several bouts of rehab and stints of sobriety, the lawmaker said. Deaths resulting from prescription drug abuse don't start with street sales, Bedingfield added. "My eyes are wide open, and it's time to think like those who are hurting," said the conservative Upstate businessman. At least 515 people died in South Carolina in 2015 from overdosing on opioids, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, based on death certificates. Bedingfield said he knows the "Good Samaritan" bill would save lives. It would provide limited immunity from prosecution for people trying to get medical help for someone who's overdosing. Bedingfield recounted his son telling him of friends who died because people were too scared to seek help.

"I want to remove that fear by people afflicted by addiction," he said. "I ask law enforcement to work with us." Another bill requires doctors to consult a statewide database of patients' medical histories before writing prescriptions for OxyContin, Percocet and other opioids beyond a five-day supply. Mandating use of the database — voluntary since 2008 — was first recommended in 2013 by Inspector General Patrick Maley, whose report described high-prescribers as either motivated by money or naively helping "doctor shoppers." But prescribers balked at the idea then, calling it a time-consuming hassle. A law passed in June 2014 required pharmacists to report daily on the controlled substances they sell, to ensure the database is regularly updated. But a clause specified that doctors and pharmacists don't have to actually consult it before prescribing or dispensing medicine. Agency directives that took effect last April increased usage. They required any doctor who is billing either Medicaid or the state health plan to use the database. The percentage of prescribers registered to use it has since risen to 42 percent, according to DHEC. But the bill's sponsors say far too many prescribers still aren't consulting it, and it's time for a statewide mandate. Another bill would make it easier for people to return excess pills. It's designed to get unused drugs out of medicine cabinets and beyond the easy reach of those who shouldn't be taking them, said Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville. The other bills include requirements that DHEC to create counterfeit-resistant prescription blanks for doctors to use and issue report cards on doctors based on their use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. "The opioid epidemic in South Carolina is real and until we get it under control, it will only get worse," said Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Columbia.


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