As opioid deaths climb in SC, experts meet to combat crisis

Ashley Hiers never will forget what the nurse said to her after she came back from the brink of death.

“The nurse brought me back from a heroin overdose,” Hiers said Wednesday. “And she said, ‘You can either go back to where you were, or you can go into treatment.’ ”

Six years later, Hiers is a peer counselor for Keystone Substance Abuse Center in Rock Hill. Wednesday, she joined other public health workers and officials from law enforcement and state agencies to discuss how to address South Carolina’s growing opioid crisis.

In 2016, the state had 550 deaths from opioid-related causes, a 7 percent increase from the year before and 18 percent more than in 2014, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Health.

Gov. Henry McMaster, who opened a two-day summit Wednesday at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on how best to address opioid abuse, said the state needs to get a handle on the crisis before it begins to affect its economy.

“We’re on the edge of the greatest prosperity we’ve ever had,” McMaster said. “The last thing we need is for the workforce to get into an opioid crisis.”

In 2016, Horry County led the state with 101 opioid-related deaths. Charleston County lost 65 residents to overdoses and York County lost 42.

Richland County also had 42 deaths that year from opioid-involved overdoses. Lexington County had 33 deaths, and Sumter County had six.

Tyler Crochet knows how bad opioid addiction can get.

Crochet started abusing prescription drugs at the age of 15, using pills his girlfriend was prescribed after shoulder surgery. By the time he was 21, he had checked into Any Lengths Recovery in Sumter, his fourth attempt at recovery after dropping out of college in Louisiana.

“I want to help kill the stigma around recovery,” said Crochet, who has been sober since 2011.

“I want to show that I’m just a normal person,” said the University of South Carolina graduate who works in Columbia.

Skyrocketing use of anti-overdose medication

While opioid-related deaths are on the rise, county emergency medical services have seen an even bigger increase in the administration of Narcan, an anti-overdose medication.

In 2016, S.C. first responders administered 6,400 doses of Narcan, up from 4,600 the year before.

First responders in Horry County delivered 1,043 doses of Narcan in 2016. Greenville County had 721 cases where Narcan was administered, and Spartanburg County had 454.

So far this year, Spartanburg County coroner Rusty Clevenger said opioid deaths in his county are down. At the same time, however, cases where Narcan have been administered are trending up.

“It’s been a huge help,” Clevenger said.

Lexington County emergency responders administered Narcan 253 times in 2016, a jump from 167 instances in 2015. Richland County saw Narcan use go down, to 85 instances in 2016 from 147 cases the year before.

The S.C. toll

550 opioid-related deaths in South Carolina in 2016; Horry County led the state with 101 deaths, Richland County had 42 and Lexington County 33

6,400 number of anti-overdose medications administered by first responders in 2016

5,702 patients were discharged from S.C. emergency rooms with opioid-related health issues in 2015

135 percent increase in South Carolinians seeking treatment for opioid abuse from 2006 to 2016

Source: S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control

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