South Dakota law enforcement and healthcare professionals gathered Monday to combat a nationwide issue; opioid abuse. Officials gathered for a conference to address needs and concerns to work towards a hopeful solution.

Health officials are calling it the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history. Opioid abuse has taken the nation by storm and South Dakota is no stranger to it. South Dakota Attorney General  Marty Jackley, who presented at the NAGTRI conference says 49 South Dakotans have died from an accidental drug overdose. He says while there are legitimate needs for opioids, extra steps need to be taken to avoid addiction and abuse.

“We’re looking at the amount of prescriptions and the quantity of prescriptions are increasing and so that national epidemic has become a concern here in South Dakota both with the ER visits, the drug overdoses as well as really with the law enforcement actions that we’re seeing across the state," Jackley says.

According to Jackley, Hydrocodone is the most prescribed opioid in South Dakota, with over 3.4 million legal doses. He says that it’s prescribed three times more than any other opioid.

Doctor John Hansen of Sanford Medical Group also presented at the conference. He says when doctors prescribe opioids, they assess the patient on a one-on-one basis to conduct physical and mental evaluations. Hansen says nearly all of his patients sign a pain contract before taking the drug. This requires only taking the drug as prescribed and not giving them to another person.

A large concern of the officials attending the conference was the number of options to treat opioid addiction. Jackley says drug courts and treatment centers are a few options available in South Dakota, but there are a limited number of spots. He says people who live in rural areas may have a hard time gaining access to them.

“It certainly depends on where you’re at. In rural South Dakota, it’s challenging. It’s been some of the challenges  we’ve seen with the drug courts. We have opportunities in South Dakota, but sometimes they are limited by the treatment components," Jackley says.

Jackley says that prevention and treatment is a better avenue for those that are seeking help. He says that they are also cheaper than prosecution and incarceration. He says that funds are limited to create more drug treatment programs, but hopes that a change in legislation can expand the budget.