COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a statewide public health emergency Monday in response to the growing opioid epidemic.
McMaster says opioid deaths have increased 21 percent from 2014-2016, and now outpace homicides and drunk driving deaths.
In 2016, 616 people in South Carolina lost their lives due to an opioid overdose.
"There's a silent hurricane going on in our state," McMaster said. "It has hit us and it's getting worse and it hits us every year. It's called the opioid crisis."
McMaster's announcement means the state will combine resources from emergency management, health care and law enforcement to try to tackle the problem. He also intends to enlist the help of local, state and federal agencies "to have all-hands-on-deck to combat this crisis."
The governor assembled an opioid emergency response team which held its first meeting Monday to begin thinking of ways to reduce the number of addicted.
"I strongly believe in the power of partnerships and what can be done by working together," said SLED Chief Mark Keel. "We can make South Carolina's opioid epidemic a thing of the past."
McMaster also advised the department of health and human services to limit opioid prescriptions for acute and postoperative patients. Under the new rules, a state Medicaid patient may only receive a maximum prescription of five days.
Similar restrictions are being put in place for state public employee benefits recipients.
"You see the tremendous scale and can you imagine the tremendous suffering?" McMaster said. "We are confident that we are going to have success."