Overdose deaths increase by 59% in S.C. between 2019 and 2020, says DHEC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) – South Carolina saw a significant increase in drug overdose deaths in 2020 during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. DHEC leaders say data confirms what they suspected that many people were turning to substances to help cope with mental and emotional stress caused by the pandemic. According to data collected the health agency, from 2019 to 2020 the number of opioid involved deaths in the state grew by 59 percent and the total number of drug overdoses increased by 53 percent. 

DHEC reports fentanyl is largely responsible for the increase. The Department of Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Services works with DHEC on the state’s Emergency Response Team and has expanded the availability of medication assisted treatment all across South Carolina.

“There is a supply side to this and there is a demand side to this. The reason our numbers are increasing is largely related to elicit fentanyl this very deadly substance – the supply of the substance into our state and into the United States has grown so dramatically,” says

with the Department of Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Services. 

DHEC says they have been  working with law enforcement and public safety to support use of its Drug Trafficking Area Overdose Map program that helps detect community overdose outbreaks in real -time. Many hospitals also provide DHEC with urine samples from individuals suspected of overdoses to test for fentanyl, says Doctor Brannon Traxler.

“This bio surveillance helps our toxicology lab monitor for increases for fentanyl overdoses within specific communities,” says Doctor Traxler. 

DHEC says one of the biggest surprises from the data is the age group 35-44 year olds who are being hit the hardest.

“A lot of times when people think of overdoses and drug usage the images that are portrayed are more younger, so we have a lot of people who are working age who are struggling and need help,” says Tramaine Paul McMullen.

Through the Department of Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Services medical counseling and peer support services are available in nearly every county with financial assistance for anyone who is unable to pay.


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