40K SC addicts could be newly covered for care

File photo (MGN/Joe Rudko, Western Washington University)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Tens of thousands of South Carolinians addicted to drugs or alcohol will become eligible for health insurance under the federal health care overhaul.

Nationwide, treatment agencies say the new demand could swamp the existing system that's already full to overflowing in many places.

The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services estimates that 362,000 residents suffer from substance abuse problems. The agency helps about 49,000 people each year through in- or out-patient services, regardless of their ability to pay.

Federal reports say 40,000 addicts in South Carolina could be newly insured. How many additional will seek help is unknown.

Agency assistant director Lee Dutton said Tuesday the state should be able to handle an increase, pointing out everyone does not seek treatment at the same time.