Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton told reporters that the cooperative effort would help officials more quickly identify people who might be doing things such as filling the same prescription in multiple counties. The initiative will involve state and federal law enforcement agencies working closely together.
“This is an epidemic in South Carolina, and it’s hard to track because people shop doctors. They shop pharmacists. They go over county lines,” Templeton said.
In 2011, DHEC says South Carolina ranked 23rd-highest per capita in overdose deaths from prescription medication.
The agency already collects information on all prescriptions of controlled substances and gives that information to physicians and law enforcement. Now, instead of requiring that information to be reported monthly, Templeton said pharmacists will have to record and turn over information on all prescriptions within 24 hours, starting Jan. 1, 2014.
The information is part of the Prescription Monitoring Program, created in 2008 and mandatory for pharmacists. The centralized database can identify “doctor shoppers” who go to multiple physicians and give false information in order to abuse or resell painkillers.
Frank O’Neal, who leads narcotics efforts at the State Law Enforcement Division, said his agency will have an agent working directly with DHEC and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to process information from that database.
“We can’t turn a blind eye, and neither can these communities that are involved,” O’Neal said, noting that more than 200 people in South Carolina died in 2012 as a result of prescription drugs.
The issue has also been addressed by state Inspector General Patrick Maley, who said in a May report that legislators, state officials and the medical community must work together to rein in the escalating epidemic. Physicians’ participation in the Prescription Monitoring Program is now voluntary, but Maley recommended that they be required to enroll.
Under the new plan, a DHEC drug control officer will be assigned specifically to help SLED and sheriffs work on these cases across the state.
Dan Johnson, the solicitor for Richland and Kershaw counties, said such measures will help prosecutors like him turn around cases more quickly – and help keep drugs away from people who should not have them.
“It’s just something that is critical to our state,” Johnson said. “Closing this gap will reduce the amount of drugs that are put on the street.”