Governor Henry McMaster announced a public health state of emergency along with the creation of an Opioid Emergency Response Team in a Monday, Dec. 18 press conference.

“This designation allows me to bring the full power of the state’s emergency management infrastructure, health care apparatus, and law enforcement resources to bear in responding to the growing epidemic of opioid deaths, addiction and abuse,” McMaster said.

At least six other states (Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, and Virginia) have declared a public health emergency relating to the opioid crisis. President Donald Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in October, but stopped short of declaring it a “national emergency,” which would have allocated federal funds more quickly.

“There’s a silent hurricane going on in our state … and it’s getting worse and it hits us every year,” McMaster said on Monday.

The Republican governor said that opioid overdoses accounted for 616 deaths in the state in 2016, and that opioid related deaths jumped up 21 percent between 2014 and 2016.

Prescription opioids accounted for 14,400 overdose deaths between 2000 and 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease control and interpreted by The New York Times. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 75 times stronger than morphine, accounted for another 20,100 deaths in the same time period.

The Opioid Emergency Response Team held its first meeting after the press conference on Monday afternoon. It is composed of representatives from law enforcement, state health and regulatory agencies, and healthcare treatment providers and will work to coordinate state and federal efforts to tackle with the crisis.

As part of Gov. McMaster’s declaration, initial opioid prescriptions for acute and post operative pain will be limited to a maximum of five days for state Medicaid recipients, down from the current 90 days.

Close to 5 million opioid prescriptions were handed out in South Carolina in 2016, according to The Post & Courier.

The South Carolina Medical Association issued a press release on Dec. 19 applauding the move.

“We look forward to working with the Governor’s task force to create effective means of limiting access to unneeded and unwarranted opioids in South Carolina,” the statement said. “The Governor’s actions recognize the need for professional health care providers to have the ability to care for their patients’ needs, but also the very real dangers of excessive opioid use in the health care field.”

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