COLUMBIA — South Carolina health officials said on Tuesday they’re shortening the amount of time pharmacists have to turn over prescription information as part of a collaborative effort to clamp down on prescription drug abuse.


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 like 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 said South Carolina ranked 23rd highest per capita in overdose deaths from prescription medication.


DHEC 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 something called 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 to abuse or resell painkillers.


Frank O’Neal, who leads narcotics efforts at the S.C. 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 South Carolina Inspector General Patrick Maley, who said in a May report that legislators, state officials and the medical community work together to rein in the escalating epidemic, for which a statewide strategy had not been formulated. Physicians’ participation in the Prescription Monitoring Program is now voluntary, but Maley recommended that physicians be required to enroll.


“The cornerstone to start turning the tide on this epidemic is to reduce the excess supply of prescription drugs causing addiction, rather than medical benefit, emanating from the physician prescription pad, both from unscrupulous pill mills and unwittingly naive physicians,” Maley wrote in his 27-page report.


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, solicitor for Richland and Kershaw counties, said such measures will help prosecutors like him turn around cases more quickly -- and keep more 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.”


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