Federal, state officials discuss barriers to opioid addiction treatment

The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services met in South Carolina on Monday to discuss opioid addiction.

BEAUFORT — In many rural, impoverished parts of South Carolina, residents fighting opioid addiction have to travel more than an hour away to get treatment, reducing the likelihood of recovery from a disease that kills hundreds each year in this state.

“What we want is for everyone who has an addiction problem to have access to every resource available,” said Sara Goldsby, a public health social worker with the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.

Access to opioid addiction treatment in rural parts of the state and the country was addressed Monday by state and federal officials during a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services.

Goldsby explained to the board that, in this state, more than 291 million opioids were prescribed from July 2014 to June 2015 — 14.5 million opioids in Charleston County, 10.5 million in Berkeley County and 7.9 million in Dorchester County.

If someone has an addiction problem in the tri-county area, or in other urban parts of the state, resources are available to get treatment, Goldsby said.

“But people in Georgetown County, for example, have to travel to Charleston or somewhere an hour away to get help. We’re working to change that,” she added.

Last month, the federal government awarded $1.1 million to three facilities in Orangeburg, Florence and Horry counties to fight opioid addiction. The money is only a small slice of the $94 million given to 45 states, Washington and Puerto Rico.

More than 500 South Carolinians died from opioid abuse in 2014. Members of the rural health committee said this state could serve as a model for others.

“One of the things South Carolina did early on is to determine statistically where it stood in fighting addiction,” said Ronnie Musgrove, the chairman of the committee and the former governor of Mississippi.

“This is not an issue that is specific to one specific area of the country,” Musgrove said. “This is affecting our entire nation. It’s broad-based and cuts across multiple borders.”

In a national overview, Nisha Patel, a division director for the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, said the newly launched Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal Grant Program will provide 18 awards at $100,000 a year to support community partnerships.

The partnerships will be comprised of local emergency responders and others involved in prevention.

“We’re targeting rural communities to provide that access and to also train more health care providers in these areas so they can be ready to treat patients,” Patel said.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517.