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Local responders brace for coming opioid crisis

The Berkeley Independent - 8/28/2017

The opioid crisis is coming to Berkeley County, local officials say.

“While the numbers aren’t quite like they are in Ohio and parts of the country,” said Chief Matthew Lindewirth from Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services. “It just hasn’t gotten here yet, but it will and when it does it will be deadly and expensive.”

Lindewirth said countywide, between Aug. 1, 2016 and Aug. 17, 2017, patients were given Narcan to counteract some form of opioid overdose 276 times.

Narcan is a drug, most times administered by EMTs, that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose by shutting down the part of brain that receives the high.

Overdoses are growing so fast a number of law enforcement personnel all across the nation are now carrying doses of Narcan. But it is being used so often that in some places there is a shortage.

In Berkeley County, the data on Narcan doesn’t distinguish whether overdoses are due to prescription opioids or street heroin.

State officials are looking for answers.

Gov. Henry McMaster announced last week that an opioid summit will be held Sept. 6-7 to bring together healthcare professionals, law enforcement, state and local agencies and concerned residents.

“Over the course of the Summit, we will hear from some of the country’s foremost experts on opioid addiction and discuss a strategic plan for improving South Carolina’s response efforts. This tragic epidemic has already torn apart too many families, and I’m confident that South Carolina will come together, as it always has, to provide the support necessary to save lives,” McMaster said.

There were 594 opioid-related deaths statewide in 2015, compared to 311 homicides, the governor’s office reported.

Those opioid-related deaths represent a 17 percent increase over 2014.

Attorney General Alan Wilson announced this month his office is joining other states looking to hold someone accountable for the prescription opioid epidemic.

The suit, against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and other opioid drugs, was filed in Richland County. It alleges that the company “unfairly and deceptively” marketed opioids helping fuel the state’s opioid crisis.

“South Carolina is not immune to the headlines we see daily about the toll of opioids on individual patients, families, and communities,” Wilson said at a recent news conference.

“It has created a public health epidemic and imposed a significant burden on law enforcement and social services in our state,” he said.

Opioids are prescription drugs with properties similar to opium and heroin. While opioids can help with pain, they also “can create an addictive euphoric high,” the complaint alleges.

As addiction climbs so go the rates of those overdosing, either from a legal prescription or the more potent heroin high from the street. It’s suspected the use of heroin has increased because of prescription opioids. Addicts who can’t get a prescription any longer, or have to wait until the doctor can write another, now chase the high illegally.

Also included in Wilson’s statement about the lawsuit were links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site that included a county-by-county breakdown of how many people out of 100 were prescribed opioids like Oxycodone.

The prescribing rate in Berkeley County is about 59 prescriptions per 100 people. Surrounding counties are about the same but in areas like Colleton, Dillon and Marion counties the rates are much higher. Other states across the country are overwhelmed and it’s getting worse.

State attorneys general like Wilson are trying to hold companies responsible, claiming that as far back as 2007 they knew of the dangers but continued to downplay how addictive opioids were while overstating the drug’s benefit. It is alleged the companies created a public health epidemic and it is still spreading.

 
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