DHEC, SLED tweak approach on prescription drugs

South Carolina officials are taking a new approach to combat prescription drug abuse in the state.

Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton said Tuesday that her agency is now requiring pharmacists to report all prescription drug distribution within 24 hours, instead of monthly.

Templeton says that will help officials more quickly identify people who might be doing things like filling the same prescription in multiple counties.

Frank O'Neal of the 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 a database detailing pharmacists' prescriptions.

In 2011, DHEC says South Carolina ranked 23rd highest per capita in overdose deaths from prescription medication.

Delena Green, a pharmacist at Rivertown Pharmacy in Conway, said these changes are a step in the right direction since prescription drug abusers often go to drastic lengths to get their fix.

"We have people that go from pharmacy to pharmacy, day after day, going to different doctors, and those doctors don't know, either," Green said.

In her 20 years of working with pharmaceuticals, Green has seen plenty of people abuse prescription drugs, which has serious medical and legal consequences. She said pain medications and anti-depressants are the most commonly abused pills,

"The thing is, you can't see what's happened this past month. Right now, I couldn't go look and see if John Doe (for example) had something filled in September, because we just put that information in, or if he just had something filled yesterday," Green said.

Prescription drug abuse costs the country nearly $53.4 billion a year in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice costs.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)