HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Deaths from opioid overdoses are on the rise in South Carolina, but recent numbers from the state health department show an improving trend when it comes to prescription painkillers.
Data obtained from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control paints a more promising picture in the ongoing opioid crisis. It shows over the last four years, South Carolina saw a decrease in pain pill prescriptions.
“It’s obviously good news. It means that people are less likely to get accidentally addicted to opioids as has happened prior to this, there’s a lot more awareness out there,” said John Coffin, executive director for Shoreline Behavioral Health Services.
The numbers show a decline from 326 million pain pills prescribed in 2015 to 241 million in 2018. The data also shows a decrease in Horry County. In 2018, physicians in the county distributed roughly 18 million prescription pills, which is down from the 22.2 million pills the year prior.
Chief Medical Officer of Conway Medical Center Dr. Paul Richardson said a key factor in the decline is awareness and education, as well as state monitoring programs.
“There’s been some safeguards put into place through the database reporting and whatnot, that allows providers more access to really see, to try to help patients that may be abusing drugs to get help sooner,” said Richardson.
Despite the drop, prescription opioids account for the majority of opioid overdose deaths in the state last year. Coffin said it begs the question: where are they coming from?
“Are they being diverted from physician prescriptions? Are they coming from out of state? That part is less clear,” said Coffin.
Still, experts believe the drop in opioid prescriptions is an improvement.
“Prescriptions and pain medications are a part of the practice of medicine, and really always will be. There are patients that have legitimate pain and we need to address that. But I do think this is a step in the right direction to curb over-usage and abuse, absolutely," said Richardson.