Opioid Crisis: The reality and efforts made to combat it

Photo credit: CNN.com

Photo credit: CNN.com

Temiloluwa Adeyemi, editor

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Each day, more than 46 people die in America  from drug overdose involving prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC data shows that South Carolina had 7,572 drug overdose deaths in 2017. The current opioid epidemic in the United States has been universally recognized as one of the most important public health issues of our time. Trump’s decision to create new laws regarding this crisis is a confirmation that the opioid crisis is alarming.

According to a news release from the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services,  Sara Goldsby, director, stated, “Pain killers can kill relationships, futures, careers or just plain kill.” Opioids, mainly used as prescription narcotics, is a category of commonly-prescribed painkillers. Though opioids are often prescribed for patients to relieve severe pain, there is a likelihood for addiction, which leads to overdose and abuse.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s DOSE OF REALITY is an initiative instrumental to preventing painkiller prescription abuse and informing the public of drug overdose dangers. The state governments of New Mexico, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska are funding this movement and creating awareness in their respective states.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order in December establishing a statewide public health emergency and an opioid emergency response team focused on combating the opioid epidemic in South Carolina.
Private organizations and government departments are providing resources and implementing new rules that will reduce opioid abuse in South Carolina. As of last month,  The South Carolina Medicaid Agency and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina made a new policy that limits the opioid dosage that doctors can prescribe to their patients in some cases.

On March 1, The South Carolina Medicaid Agency gave out a notice on its decision to limit opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply for acute or post surgery pains. The notice states that failure to adhere to this new policy will result “in the recoupment of Medicaid funds for the service during which the prescription was issued.” This policy becomes effective May 1.
According to its news feed, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina developed an initiative called Opioid Management Program that began April 1. This program consists of restrictions to the daily quantity limits specific to each drug, with a requirement of prior authorization for certain prescribing situations.

The program’s highlights as listed by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina include the following:

  • An initial day’s supply fill limit for all short acting/immediate release (IR) opioids.
  • Specific day supply initial fill limit for all long acting/extended release (ER) opioids provided the patient’s prescription history has proof of a previous fill of an IR opioid prescription in the past 90 days.
  • All daily supply limits for IR and ER opioids are calculated based on 90 MME (morphine milligram equivalents) a day. Requests for quantities above 90 MME a day will require prior authorization.
  • If the request for quantities above 90 MME is approved, patients will be allowed to fill up to a max of 120 MME per day.
  • Prior authorization criteria will be implemented to manage the allowed appropriate daily limits and to encourage ongoing physician monitoring of patients on opioid therapy.
  • The program applies to all BlueCross and BlueChoice® The program does not apply to Affordable Care Act (ACA) members and plans, as these members are subject to a similar program administered by CVS Caremark. CVS Caremark is a division of CVS/Health, an independent company that provides pharmacy services on behalf of BlueCross and BlueChoice.
  • Patients undergoing cancer treatment, palliative and end-of-life care will be exempt from the program requirements.

Photo Credit: RiverMend Health

“For the last three years, we had more opioid-related deaths in South Carolina than homicides and drunk driving deaths combined. And it’s not just pills. Addictions intensify from one substance to another. Last month, I declared a statewide public health emergency in South Carolina. This allows us to bring the full power of the state’s emergency management infrastructure, health care apparatus and law enforcement resources to bear – as a single team – upon the growing epidemic of opioid deaths, addiction and abuse,” said Gov. Henry McMaster in his State of the State address earlier this year.

In an effort to increase awareness, South Carolina will launch an education campaign to inform the public about the opioid epidemic. Other statewide efforts include a new website,  JustPlainKillers.com, designed to be a reliable resource for information about the opioid epidemic and how to use prescriptions safely, and TV commercials that began airing in January.

S.C. Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, member of a special House committee, called the education campaign a “tremendous step forward” as it will help in the eradication of this stigma in South Carolina.  “One of our biggest problems in South Carolina is just simply folks not understanding the dangers that exist.”

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 28. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has identified more than 5000 locations across the nation to safely dispose unused prescription drugs. Using Google Maps API, the Google public policy team in collaboration with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)  has created a locator tool for the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Take back locations will be open between 10a.m. and 2p.m.

The locator tool can help anyone find a place near them to safely dispose of leftover prescription medications. The next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day will be in October.

Students in need of assistance are advised to visit Mimi Merriweather, Columbia College director of counselling services at Harrelson 209. Recommended treatment services are the Columbia Metro Treatment Center and Crossroads Treatment Center.


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