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Opioid overdose deaths continue to rise in SC, Greenville sees heavy toll from fentanyl

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A fentanyl user holds a needle near Kensington and Cambria in Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 2018. File/David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Deaths from opioid overdose in South Carolina rose again in 2018, new data shows, hitting the Greenville area harder than anywhere in the state.

Information released from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on Monday shows 816 opioid overdose deaths across the state in 2018, an increase of about 9 percent since 2017.

In Greenville County alone, 131 people lost their lives to an overdose, an 80 percent uptick since the year before; 101 of the deaths were due to the synthetic opioid fentanyl. 

“This news shows that the opioid epidemic continues to devastate South Carolinians and their families, but it will not discourage us in our fight to eradicate it from our communities,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a press release.

South Carolina's death rate continues to rise even as national numbers have begun to fall.

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Nationwide, provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month showed a turn of the tide, with the first drop in deaths since 1990. Final data will become public later this year.

Nearly 69,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2018, the CDC reports. But deaths from fentanyl were on the rise, and the same held true in South Carolina.

The new data from both DHEC and the CDC reflects growing concerns over fentanyl, which is much more powerful than heroin. Deaths from fentanyl use overall in South Carolina were up 27 percent. 

The drug overdose report from the DHEC is published every year. 

Greenville County unseated Charleston County in the top number of overdose deaths. In 2018, 100 people died of opioid overdose in the Charleston area, up only slightly since 2017. Richland County, home to Columbia, managed to bring its death toll down in 2018.

Opioids, the class of drugs that includes pain pills like Oxycontin and illegal varieties including heroin and fentanyl, were not the only culprits in overdoses. Fatal encounters with cocaine are also rising in South Carolina, accounting for 254 deaths in 2018.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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