Some of South Carolina's conservative congressional leaders are worried that VA hospitals in Charleston, Columbia and Augusta have become some of the largest "pill mills" in the country.

In a letter sent to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson on Friday, seven Republican lawmakers outlined their concerns about "the dramatic increase in opioid prescriptions provided to our veterans at VA medical facilities."

The congressmen have asked Gibson for data on hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine prescriptions written at the three South Carolina facilities between 2011 and 2013, as well as details regarding the department's protocols for prescribing these drugs.

"We . know from data published by the Department of Veterans Affairs that the number of Schedule II painkiller and/or opioid prescriptions has increased approximately 270 percent during the 2001-2012 timeframe," they wrote. "This information causes us to be concerned that VA medical facilities nationally, including those in and around South Carolina, could be the largest 'pill mills' in the country and that the VA may have become a major source of opioid diversion in our communities."

U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford, Trey Gowdy, Tom Rice, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, all South Carolina Republicans, signed the letter.

This isn't an issue unique to the VA health care system. Residents in South Carolina carry more painkiller prescriptions per person than residents in most other states, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. Nikki Haley's Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Council is expected to publish a statewide plan of action by Oct. 1.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.