COLUMBIA — South Carolina is launching an education campaign to inform the public about the opioid epidemic, hoping to mitigate a crisis that Gov. Henry McMaster describes as a "silent hurricane" ravaging the state.
The statewide effort, announced Wednesday by McMaster and Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Director Sara Goldsby, includes a new website — www.JustPlainKillers.com — and TV commercials that will begin airing in South Carolina this month.
"A lot of times when people understand that we're really in deep trouble, they'll begin to react, and we're attempting to make that happen more so than it is already," McMaster said.
Funding for the campaign will come from $6.5 million in federal grants the state received last year to help treat and prevent opioid addiction after the 21st Century Cures Act passed through Congress.
In 2016, more than 600 people died of opioid-related overdoses in South Carolina, nearly double the number of people who died by homicide or drunken driving.
"I believe the figures demonstrate the tragedy that is encompassing us," McMaster said.
McMaster declared a statewide public health emergency on the opioid crisis last month.
Goldsby said the website is designed to provide a reliable resource for information about the opioid epidemic and how to use prescription medication safely.
S.C. Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, who led a special House committee that finalized a report last week recommending further changes to state law, called the education campaign a "tremendous step forward" that will help to remove the stigma surrounding the opioid epidemic in the state.
"One of our biggest problems in South Carolina is just simply folks not understanding the dangers that exist," Bedingfield said. "So I'm proud to be supportive of these efforts."