Highest and lowest painkiller prescription rates

The following rates represent the average number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 residents.

Top 10

Alabama and Tennessee (tied): 143

West Virginia: 138

Kentucky and Oklahoma (tied): 128

Mississippi: 120

Louisiana: 118

Arkansas: 116

Indiana: 109

Michigan: 107

South Carolina: 102

Ohio: 100

Bottom 10

Hawaii: 52

California: 57

New York: 60

Minnesota: 62

New Jersey: 63

Alaska: 65

South Dakota: 66

Vermont: 67

Illinois: 68

Wyoming: 70

Source: CDC

South Carolinians carry more painkiller prescriptions per person than residents in most other states, a new federal report shows.

This includes prescriptions for highly addictive drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and methadone.

"South Carolina is sicker in a lot of ways," said Bryan Amick, pharmacy director for the state Medicaid agency and a member of Gov. Nikki Haley's Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Council.

Other factors influence the high rate of painkiller prescriptions, too, he said. "There's income influence, education level, socioeconomics."

This isn't an issue isolated to South Carolina: Southerners across the region have more painkiller prescriptions per person than any other part of the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in its July Vital Signs issue.

With 143 painkiller prescriptions per 100 people, Alabama and Tennessee tied for the highest painkiller prescription rate in the country. South Carolina's rate is slightly lower - 102 prescriptions per 100 residents.

Catherine Templeton, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said several recent initiatives should help curb the state's rate.

Those include a more concerted effort to prosecute doctors who knowingly dole out too many painkillers and improving access to a statewide database that tracks how many prescriptions for controlled substances each patient fills, she said.

"First we've got to get (doctors) actually using the database," Templeton said.

Historically, only doctors were able to access that database, and many of them didn't use it because they had no extra time. A new regulation allows office staff to sign onto the system. The council wants to take the regulation one step further by mandating that doctors use it to determine which patients legitimately need painkillers and which ones are only shopping for more drugs.

Only 20 percent of doctors in South Carolina are registered to use the system, and only an estimated 5 percent are actually using it on a regular basis, said Dr. Louis Costa, president of the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners and a member of the prescription drug abuse prevention council.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," Costa said. "We're looking at proven means and methods that have worked in other states."

The group's statewide plan is due by Oct. 1.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.