Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A committee of 16 lawmakers assembled on Tuesday to begin discussing ways to prevent opioid abuse in South Carolina.
According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), 565 people died of an opioid overdose in 2015.
"Opioid addiction is one of the largest and most devastating epidemics our country has seen," says House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington. "Nationally, more people die from opioid overdoses every year than from car accidents. 91 people lose their lives every day."
Speaker Lucas assembled the committee and chose Representative Eric Bedeningfield as the chairman. Rep. Bedingfield lost his son to an opioid overdose in 2016 and says he is honored to be able to help fight an issue facing South Carolinians.
"It's very obvious that we're not doing enough," says Re. Bedingfield, R-Greenville. "Government doesn't have the answers to everything, but it's our job to use our resources to do the fact finding and find potential solutions."
Committee members heard from agency officials during their first meeting.
"Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States ahead of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and from firearms," says Sara Goldby, acting director of the SC Dept. of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.
In the 2015 report, Horry County saw the most opioid and heroin related deaths at 86. That number grew in 2016.
"In 2016 we had 150 deaths," says Bill Knowles, commander with the 15th Judicial Circuit Drug Prevention Unit. "95 percent of the search warrants we execute, we found pharmaceutical medication. It's by far the most abused drug we deal with, is pharmaceuticals."
He hopes that laws can be established that will help officers combat the issue on the streets.
Rep. Bedingfield says the committee can expect to hear from recovering addicts in future meetings.
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