South Carolina is among numerous states across America reeling from prescription drug abuse, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified as a nationwide epidemic.
As the state has moved forward to combat the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs, so too has South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott on Capitol Hill.
Scott – a self-labeled “passionate advocate for patient-centered health care” -- has reached across the aisle on the issue and with fellow Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., launched the aptly named Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus aimed at raising awareness “about helping the millions of American families whose lives have been torn apart by prescription drug abuse.”
“Prescription drug abuse has devastating effects on thousands of families across our nation,” Scott said when launching the caucus May 22. “This is a problem we must tackle from every angle.”
Such a multi-zone attack is needed against an enemy that seems to be coming from several directions, the lawmakers say.
For example this month, a new study from the University of South Carolina shows that 17 percent of college students misuse drugs prescribed to people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prescriptions such as Ritalin and Adderall are most commonly abused as stimulants by students not having a prescription for them, according to the study.
At the same time, law enforcement in South Carolina, similar to what’s happening in other areas around the country, is seeing more raw opium available on the streets to make heroin, an easier and cheaper replacement for the abused prescription drugs that have become harder to get.
And as prescription drug abusers seek out other drugs like heroin, it’s oftentimes costing them their lives. In fact, Scott says that with 17,000 Americans losing their lives to prescription opioid overdoses every year – or 46 Americans every day – “America must refocus its priorities to fight prescription drug abuse.”
Moving forward, he says focused efforts will include caucus members partnering with a variety of stakeholders to produce “innovative and effective policy solutions” that address prevention and treatment.
Among the expected stakeholders is the health insurance industry, which is in the hole to the tune of roughly $72.5 billion every year in direct health care costs related to the abuse of prescription painkillers, according to the National Safety Council. At the same time, the industry has seen private health insurance companies and Medicare pass on the associated costs of prescription drug abuse to consumers in the form of higher health care premiums, mostly to cover treatment and prevention.
South Carolina hasn’t been immune to any of these problems, according to the Governor’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Council, which released a December 2014 state plan to prevent and treat the abuse of prescription drugs.
And in January, state Sen. Thomas C. Alexander, R-Oconee District 1, introduced S. 294 in the General Assembly. The proposal would make it a trafficking crime for a person to illegally and knowingly possess (or possess with the intent to manufacture and sell) “any drug available only by prescription.” Once convicted, and depending on the dosage units, the charges graduate from misdemeanors punishable by up to three-year sentences, to felony convinctions that carry weightier prison time and fines.
S. 294 has been referred to a state senate judiciary subcommittee.