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Overdose Deaths Spiked During First Year of Pandemic

March 3, 2022 by Dan McCue
The 908devices MX908 detects the possibility of presence of fentanyl in a drug sample tested at AHOPE. (Jesse Costa/Kaiser Health News/TNS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Overdose deaths, most of them attributable to opioid abuse, surged in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Wednesday.

In the latest edition of its annual Drug Overdose Deaths Statistical Report for South Carolina, DHEC says the number of opioid deaths alone increased by 59% in 2020, jumping from 876 to 1,400.

The total number of all drug overdoses increased by 53% across the state, from 1,131 to 1,734. 

The data, which is derived from death certificates registered with DHEC’s Office of Vital Statistics, represents the deaths of individuals that occurred within the state, regardless of whether the individuals were South Carolina residents.

“While we cannot directly correlate these overdose deaths to the stress and emotional toll these individuals may have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Carolina’s overdose death data follows national trends that substance misuse has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler in a written statement. 

“Mental health and substance use disorders are part of public health, and DHEC is committed to working with fellow state agencies, federal partners, local law enforcement and community groups to help prevent additional drug overdose deaths,” Traxler said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have reported a provisional 15.9% increase in drug overdose deaths nationwide from September 2020 through September 2021.

In South Carolina, the synthetic opioid fentanyl is largely responsible for the increase in overdose deaths. 

From 2019 to 2020, drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased 105% in South Carolina, from 537 to 1,100. Fentanyl was involved in 79% of all opioid-involved overdose deaths.

“Despite the increase in overdose deaths in 2020, it is important that we recognize the tremendous work that is being done across sectors to reverse this heartbreaking trend,” said Sara Goldsby, director of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. 

“I cannot overstate the urgency of continuing our efforts to save lives, as it allows many to start on the path to treatment and recovery from opioid use disorder,” she said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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