COLUMBIA — The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman serves as a tragic reminder, said a top drug-treatment official in South Carolina.
In short: heroin addiction remains a threat, even as prescription painkillers emerge as a growing trend in opiate addiction.
“It brings it back to the forefront that heroin’s out there, and it’s cheap to get,” said Lee Dutton, of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, after a meeting with a House budget subcommittee.
“It’s still a problem,” said Dutton. “You can snort it, and you can inhale it, and it’s $6 a packet. Our concern is not only the person taking it, but certainly it’s accessible to kids, and kids can afford $6.”
He said that although heroin is an opiate, the surging trend has been in prescription drug opiates.
On Feb. 4, Dutton presented the agency’s budget needs to four lawmakers and emphasized the growing concern about prescription drug opiate addiction.
“We hope to do something with a prescription drug monitoring program,” said Dutton, since the agency received some prescription drug settlement money.
A report issued by state officials in 2012 said opiate overdoses, once almost always resulting from heroin use, was now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers.
Officials estimate one in 10 South Carolinians - or 315,000 people – suffer from substance abuse serious enough to warrant immediate intervention and treatment.
“I’m with you on the prescription monitoring. I see more and more problems where people have an addiction to opiates and painkillers,” said Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who chairs the healthcare budget subcommittee.
“What I’m more concerned about is the average person who receives a prescription and has an addiction,” said the lawmaker.
“Yes, they did commit a crime, but not everyone’s arrested,” he said. “I just want to make sure we have a system in place where people can receive treatment.”
Materials submitted to Smith’s subcommittee last week also revealed that substance-abuse services provided to pregnant women increased 3.3 percent.
“We’re focusing on it. And when you focus on it, you’re going to identify it. And we’ve done that in association with the Birth Outcomes Initiative,” said Dutton.
“We want to catch these ladies at a much earlier stage in pregnancy and get them into treatment and them get them off of whatever substance they might be using.”
In his cover letter to lawmakers, DAODAS head Robert Toomey wrote that he wasn’t requesting an increase in recurring general fund dollars.
However, the department is seeking $100,000 in unclaimed lottery prize money to devote to treating gambling addiction. Since 2004, the agency has helped about 3,000 people with pathological gambling dependencies and other gambling-related problems.
Advocates for the elderly are also taking notice.
Last Thursday, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell planned to present a legislative proposal to protect vulnerable seniors from prescription drug theft and reduce prescription drug abuse and trafficking.
Relatives and caregivers have been pilfering medicine cabinets in private homes and licensed residential facilities. South Carolina ranks 23rd per capita in prescription drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Seniors are oftentimes known for having stockpiles of excess prescription medicine on hand, and this habit can create temptation for anyone who abuses prescription drugs and has access to a senior’s medicine cabinet,” said McConnell in a news release.
A state Inspector General report last year concluded that state authorities have no systematic understanding of South Carolina’s painkiller problem, but that it’s probably worse than the average state.