HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A bill that would allow more people to get a hold of the opioid overdose reversing drug Naloxone, better known as Narcan, is now being discussed in the South Carolina State Senate. The U.S. surgeon general issued a rare advisory Thursday, urging loved ones of those at risk for overdoses to carry the opioid antidote.
Grand Strand Representative Russel Fry is one of the bill's sponsors, and said with Horry County holding the highest amount of opioid-related deaths in South Carolina, the surgeon general issuing this advisory is a tremendous help because this drug saves lives.
"It increases access to that life-saving drug, which is so critical for people and making sure that we keep them alive… and we go about trying to get them on the road to recovery so they and their families can get past this addiction," said Fry.
The reversing drug Narcan essentially brings people back from an overdose. In South Carolina, all first responders are able to administer Narcan and it can be prescribed by a doctor or distributed through pharmacists without a prescription.
This bill expands access to opioid reversal drugs, like Narcan, and allows community organizations, either public or private - like homeless shelters, counseling services or advocacy groups who deal with addiction and recovery- to carry the medication. Therefore, they can distribute it to individuals who may need it.
However, there are some concerns that people will use this as an opportunity to use more drugs because they know that a rescue is available. Conway Medical Center's Pharmacy Director, Robert Gajewski, said that's not the reality.
"I don't think that's going to have an effect on people having more overdoses. If anything, it's going to help save lives for people who are experiencing an overdose. Usually for people who I think have an addiction problem, they're really not looking for Narcan… they are looking more for the narcotic or whatever it is.. the heroin they might be getting their high from," said Gajewski.
Advocates say in 2016, we lost more people to overdoses than we lost in the nearly 20 years of American involvement in the Vietnam War.
Dr. Victor Archambeau is the Chairman of Faces and Voices of Grand Strand (FAVOR), a local non-profit recovery advocacy group. He said Naloxone is an extremely safe medication and doesn't see a downside to this bill, other than the time it will take to implement it and how many lives we will lose in the process.
"Because we have the highest death toll in the state from opioid overdoses, it's going to give us an opportunity to dramatically change that statistic, I believe. I can tell you from personal experience, I have a next-door neighbor who woke up at 3 a.m., heard her son struggling to breathe, he had overdosed. She had to do CPR on him until EMS got there. He survived, but Narcan would have been an immediate opportunity to save his life rather than having to actually do CPR. So, having Narcan or Naloxone.. generic name, available is just a tool to help keep people from dying. If we can keep them from dying, then hopefully we can get them into recovery," said Archambeau.
Narcan is available through injection and nasal spray forms. The drug can be covered by insurance and drug companies, even offer patient assistance programs where you may be able to get the drug at little or no cost.
Dr. Archambeau said although there's a lot of misunderstanding and stigma about addiction and recovery, it's crucial to keep people alive long enough to seek recovery.
"We have to stop it. If we don't open a dialogue, if we don't free up the resources, if we don't free up the community, we're not going to succeed… and the concern now is that possibly by the mid 2020's, we could be losing a hundred thousand people a year to overdose, that's not sustainable. We're losing a generation," said Archambeau.
Dr. Archambeau has overcome addiction himself and wants people to know the road to recovery is worthwhile.
"I'm personally in recovery for 24 years. People don't understand that, a lot of times they think well you're in recovery, you're struggling with this problem. I'm not struggling, I have a great life today. I just choose to do what I can to pass that on to other people and help other people and that's really what FAVOR is about… is just trying to help people find recovery, be successful in recovery," said Archambeau.
Fry said there are a few states that have issued this bill and have had successful results.
"I think there has been tremendous success states in other states that have done this and it's something that South Carolina needs to do as we deal with our own opioid crisis," said Fry.
The bill passed the House unanimously and now sits in the Committee on Medical Affairs.