After Son’s Death, Eric Bedingfield Dedicates Himself to Fighting Opioid AbuseJan 27, 2023 02:35PM ● By Liv Osby
Josh Bedingfield’s battle with addiction began during his senior year in high school.
An “excellent student and a great kid,” he went to a party at the end of the school year and took a drug that caused him to suffer a seizure.
That event, according to his father, former S.C. Rep. Eric Bedingfield, sparked a nine-year cycle of opioid use and sobriety that ended tragically in 2016 when Josh, then just 26, passed away.
“He’d be 31 now,” Bedingfield told Integrated Media Publishing, publishers of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, and Charleston Business Magazine.
“I think about this every single day,” he said. “It is not something that you can run from.”
After his son’s death, Bedingfield, who represented the 28th District from 2007 to 2018, dedicated himself to the battle against opioid use.
He served as chair of the S.C. House Opioid Use Study Committee, which crafted strategies to curb the opioid epidemic in the state.
And last summer he was named by Gov. Henry McMaster to chair the South Carolina Opioid Recovery Fund Board to oversee the spending of funds coming to the state from the 2022 National Opioid Settlement, which resulted from lawsuits brought against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.
“My No. 1 goal – and I think the No. 1 goal of all of this effort – is to save lives,” Bedingfield said. “It’s that simple.”
Opioid use is a national dilemma.
In 2021, more than 107,000 people died of overdoses, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that opioids factor in 72 percent of these deaths.
In South Carolina, 1,400 people died from opioid overdoses in 2020, the most current data available, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“Opioid use disorder is on the increase, and more and more people are dying every day,” said Bedingfield, who is governmental affairs director at Greenville Technical College, where he was instrumental in starting a collegiate recovery program.
The epidemic affects every aspect of society, he said, and “getting people free from this disorder puts families back together, churches back together, employment facilities back together.”
Most of those who suffer from this disorder began with a prescription medication, not a street drug, he said. But when the prescription could no longer be refilled, they moved to buying potentially deadly drugs on the street.
“(That’s) the deadly thing because nobody knows what they’re getting,” he said. “People are selling what looks like Xanax, but is actually fentanyl.”
In fact, Bedingfield said, it was fentanyl that caused his son’s death.
Josh attended Wren High School where, his dad said, he was an excellent student. His problems began toward the end of his senior year when he went to a “pill party” at someone’s house, he said.
The family got him into an intense treatment program, he said, and he graduated on time.
“But Josh would be clean for a while and then he would relapse,” Bedingfield said. “We went through that a number of times over the years.”
Still, he’d attended Greenville Tech, gotten his commercial driver’s license and gone to work for a large trucking company while participating in Narcotics Anonymous two to three days a week with his father.
“He was on the right track. He’d gotten to the stage where he was helping other people in recovery,” Bedingfield said. “Then he wound up having a setback … and passed away.
“It was a huge shock. Just a week before, we were together in an NA meeting. But relapse is always a possibility.”
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor was proud to appoint Bedingfield to chair the SCORF board.
“Since the tragic loss of his son,” he said, “(Bedingfield) has championed important legislation as a member of the General Assembly, and he has important expertise and passion for the issue that will serve the state well in this role.”
The national opioid lawsuits resulted in a settlement of more than $20 billion from three top pharmaceutical distributors – AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson – and opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.
South Carolina will be getting more than $360 million in settlement funds over 18 years, according to Greenville Tech. And the SCORF board, which was created by the SC Opioid Recovery Act signed into law in May, will determine how those funds are dispensed, Bedingfield said.
“The first payments from some of the manufacturers and distributors have already come in,” he said, noting that South Carolina already has almost $80 million.
Applicants for the funds might include hospitals, nonprofits, police and other groups that have programs that target recovery and abatement strategies, he said.
For example, he said, the money might be used to fund additional detox rooms at a treatment center, medication-assisted treatment, the purchase of Narcan by police departments, or educational programs in schools.
It also might help fund pilot programs around the state, such as the one run by FAVOR (Faces and Voices of Recovery Upstate) that puts recovery counselors in hospital ERs to help people who survive overdoses.
The nine-member board is composed of doctors, government officials, and experts in the field from around the state, said Bedingfield, who also spent four years as a member of Greenville County Council.
Staffed by the state Fiscal Accountability Authority and the state Attorney General’s office, the board meets every other month, he said.
At its first meeting in September, the board designed a website and developed applications for requesting funds, he said. Interested parties can apply to scorf.sc.gov.
“The goal of everything is to collect the dollars, have people make application for programs they’d like to put in place, then us weigh the value of them and get the money in their hands,” he said. “The goal is to take people who have a problem and … get them the help (to) get them on the right path.”
After Josh’s passing, Bedingfield said he no longer had the heart for elected office and resigned from the House. Instead, he shifted his energies to help others who are coping with addiction.
“There are so many different aspects of this thing (that) … it takes a lot of different efforts – education, prevention, recovery,” he said. “I saw things that worked with Josh and things that didn’t. But we have to be open-minded to every potential treatment option.”
Since his family’s loss, Bedingfield said he takes comfort in spending time with Josh’s two children.
“Life goes on,” he said. “He left me two beautiful granddaughters, and I see him in them. And I’m doing what I think he would want me to be doing.”