South Carolina’s public health chief says legislators can improve some of the state’s drug prescription laws in a way to fight the ongoing opioid crisis.
Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel recommended several changes in a Legislative Oversight subcommittee hearing last month. Among them is reducing the list of offices and clinics DHEC is required to inspect every three years. Under current law, DHEC must inspect any medical practitioner which “dispenses” controlled substances like prescription drugs.
But Heigel said the current law’s definition includes those doctors or clinics which “prescribe” drugs. She argued DHEC’s resources would be better spent inspecting pharmacies which actually fill the prescriptions instead. Focusing only on those dispensers would reduce the number of registrants requiring inspections from 25,000 to roughly 8,000. Heigel said the agency is already focusing more on pharmacies and hospitals despite the law’s language.
“We just don’t have the resources to do 25,000 every three years,” she said. “And we want to focus on those that are dispensing because that’s where (drug) diversion is occurring.”
She said the agency will be able to keep tabs on doctors who may be improperly or illegally prescribing drugs with its Prescription Monitoring Program database. The PMP tracks a patient’s prescription history to show medical personnel the patient’s medical history and allows state regulators to potentially spot patterns that indicate potential abuse. The program had been voluntary in the past, but Gov. Henry McMaster signed a law passed by legislators in May which made it mandatory.
“We have some issues with physicians who are pill mills and will write these readily,” Heigel told the panel. “Now that it’s mandatory, it will really help us to get at better identifying those issues. It’s not going to 100 percent, but it’s going to help us substantially.”
She also recommended the state close a loophole in a law that requires anyone filling a prescription to show their identification. The law provides an exception if the pharmacist “knows” the recipient, which Heigel says is practically impossible to enforce.
More than 560 South Carolinians died due to opioid-related drug overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention