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Opioid overdose deaths increase for fifth year in a row

opioid overdose

From 2018 to 2019, the number of opioid-involved overdose deaths once again increased in the Palmetto State, according to data collected by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). During a meeting on Oct. 12, of the state’s Opioid Emergency Response Team (OERT), officials announced that from 2018 to 2019, the total number of opioid-involved overdose deaths increased by 7%, from 816 to 876.

“This new data demonstrates the need for South Carolina to continue fighting tooth and nail against the opioid crisis,” said Governor Henry McMaster. “With multiple counties reporting a decrease in opioid abuse, we can clearly see the impact OERT’s members are having on our communities, but there is still much work to be done in combating the growing epidemic of opioid misuse and addiction.”

The total number of prescription drug-involved overdose deaths, which include non-opioid drugs, increased by 7%, from 863 deaths in 2018 to 923 in 2018. Heroin-involved overdose deaths saw an increase of 17%, from 168 to 196 deaths. Fentanyl-involved overdose deaths saw the same percentage increase – 17% – from 460 to 537 deaths between 2018 and 2019. Psychostimulant-involved overdose deaths saw the largest increase – 40% – from 242 to 338 deaths between 2018 and 2019. There were noteworthy decreases seen among deaths involving cocaine by 10% (254 in 2018 to 230 in 2019) and methadone by 51% (57 in 2018 to 28 in 2019). The increases in mortality related to drug overdosing have continued to decrease since 2014.

“The most effective way to turn the tide on this epidemic is to coordinate and share expertise across agencies, all the way from the local to the federal level,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Director of Public Health. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made opioid use disorder even more of a health challenge in our state, but we remain deeply committed to preventing opioid overdoses and decreasing overdose deaths through our coordinated efforts.”

From 2018 to 2019, there were either substantial decreases or slight increases in the number of opioid-involved deaths in three of the major metropolitan areas (Charleston, Greenville and Richland counties):

• Greenville County observed a substantial decline in opioid-involved deaths, from 131 in 2018 to 102 in 2019 (down 22%).

• Charleston County saw a slight increase from 100 opioid-involved deaths in 2018 to 107 in 2019, and opioid-involved deaths in nearby Dorchester County decreased by 53% (30 reported in 2018 to 14 in 2019).

• A slight increase was reported for Richland County (51 reported in 2018 to 52 in 2019).

• Horry County observed a substantial increase in reported opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2019 (131, up from 85 in 2018).

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying stressors, South Carolina will unfortunately see even greater rates of overdose for 2020,” said Sara Goldsby, Director of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. “To address this increase, DAODAS has expended over $2.7 million to make the overdose-reversal drug naloxone available across the state, and the saving of precious lives with the administration of naloxone gives us reason for hope as it allows many to start on the path to treatment and recovery from opioid use disorder.”

Efforts impacting the response and prevention of overdosing, such as unified task forces and coalitions, may have contributed to the decline in the number of overdose deaths among the various counties across the state and a slowing down of the increase in numbers statewide.

“SLED continues to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to expand the opioid interdiction efforts throughout South Carolina. As a result, seizures of heroin, fentanyl, and opioid pills increased significantly” said SLED Chief Mark Keel. “SLED is committed to continuing these interdiction efforts to make our communities safer as well as continuing the expansion of the collaborative Law Enforcement Take Back Program. Since the inauguration of this program, over 11,000 pounds of pills have been removed from our state.”

The 2019 data will be available on the map-based data portal that is part of the state’s opioid crisis education campaign website, justplainkillers.com/data/, which displays opioid-involved mortality data along with other opioid-related data and is searchable by county. The full data report produced by DHEC and executive summary (which is attached to this e-mail) will also be accessible through the website. The data displayed is provided as part of the OERT collaboration including DAODAS, DHEC and others.

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