A Breath of Hope for South Carolina
Joseph Y Shenkar, J.
Six days before his untimely death, 57-year-old music legend Prince overdosed on the narcotic painkiller Percocet while on a flight, causing the plane to make an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois. There, EMS paramedics at the airport administered a shot of Naloxone, an opioid antidote, which saved his life. Naloxone blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reversing the effects of narcotic drugs. Sadly despite this, Prince died a few days later from the consumption of Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin.1 With his death, Prince joined a lengthy list of celebrities and other notables who have succumbed to the dreadful disease of opioid addiction or died from its innocent consumption; these include: Michael Jackson (propofol), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (heroin), John Belushi (a mix of heroin and cocaine), Heath Ledger (a mix of Oxycodone and Benzodiazepines) and Bruce Lee (Rx painkiller Equagesic).2
These opioids-related overdose deaths are hardly shocking to those who are familiar with the opioid crisis in America. In 2010, the world's global consumption of hydrocodone stood at 42.4 tons, with the United States accounting for more than 99 percent of the total. The second highest country on the list was Palau,3 an archipelago of over 500 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, a country with a population that is comparable to Easley SC. Of course, hydrocodone is only one of numerous drugs in the opioids class, a group of narcotic drugs that also includes OxyContin, Fentanyl, Methadone and heroin. In the past 10 years, the abuse of opioids and resulting deaths across the United States have skyrocketed. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), they have reached epidemic proportions. Consider the following: In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes, with a staggering death toll of 47,000 Americans.5 This problem, which now transcends every socioeconomic background and ethnicity in the United States, did not leave South Carolina unscathed.
South Carolina is the 23rd most populous state in the country. However, when it comes to the dispensation of opioids, South Carolina ranks 11th in the nation with 101.8 narcotic prescriptions written per 100 persons.6 In comparison, New York is the 4th most populous state in the country and has only 59.5 narcotic prescriptions per 100 persons.7 Of course, these numbers do not include the illicit heroin market, which adds untold devastation to the opioid crisis in communities across our state. In 2015, South Carolina saw its highest ever number of opioid-related overdose deaths, reaching almost 600,8 with 2016 trends looking to be even deadlier.
To counter this trend, in 2015, Hon. Daniel E. Johnson, Solicitor for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, partnered with Rep. Chip Huggins of Lexington County to draft the South Carolina Overdose Prevention Act (H.3083, "the Act").9 The original version of the bill was adapted from legislation passed in New Jersey and rewritten to fit the complexities of South Carolina. A coalition of stakeholders considered drafts of the bill, including the SC Medical Association, SC Department of Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Services (DAO-DAS), SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), SC Pharmacy Association, SC Law Enforcement Division (SLED), SC Sheriffs Association and SC Commission on Prosecution Coordination.
The Act seeks to grant physicians, pharmacists, caregivers and first responders immunity from both civil liability and criminal prosecution when they engage in the prescription, dispensation or the administration of the opioid antidote Naloxone in cases of suspected drug overdose. The Act is groundbreaking, not only for its all-encompassing immunity, but also because it allows physicians to prescribe the opioid overdose antidote to persons who are not under their direct care. Moreover, it fully allows South Carolina law enforcement officers to carry and administer the lifesaving drug.
The drug itself is not new to the world of medicine. It was first developed in 1961 by two American pharmaceutical researchers and was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1971.10 Since then, every EMS and healthcare provider in the United States carries this life-saving drug, which is also on the World Health Organization's (WHO) List of Essential Medicines that includes the most important medications needed in a basic health system. Naloxone blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reversing the effects of other narcotics, such as heroin and morphine, which depress the body's central nervous and respiratory systems and ultimately lead to an overdose and death.
Providing Naloxone to law enforcement officers as a...