Opioid overdoses remain elevated during COVID-19 pandemic
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A health advisory issued yesterday by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) offers preventive strategies for prescribers and prescription drug dispensers across the state to address increased opioid overdoses since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although suspected overdose numbers have decreased since May, rates remain 50 percent higher than this time last year. The reports from South Carolina reflect national trends of increased opioid overdoses throughout the pandemic. DHEC expects COVID-19 will contribute to an elevated risk of overdoses in the coming months.
“We closely monitor suspected opioid overdose reports in every county across the state and coordinate with prevention partners to support local response efforts,” said Emma Kennedy, director of DHEC’s Division of Injury and Substance Abuse Prevention. “This collaborative effort enables state-level staff to engage county-level counterparts in high-burden areas to encourage targeted response efforts.”
Since March, South Carolina has seen a steady increase in suspected opioid overdoses and first responder Narcan® administrations over last year. In May alone, EMS personnel responded to an estimated 915 suspected opioid overdoses in South Carolina, the highest monthly number in the state’s history, and nearly twice that reported for May 2019. Year-to-date preliminary data suggests an upward trend in overdoses from both prescribed and illicitly manufactured substances and overdoses involving other drugs like benzodiazepines but is not conclusive.
“Even in these times when we’ve had to hit ‘pause’ on so many parts of everyday life, treatment is still available throughout the state,” said Lee Dutton, Chief of Staff for the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS). “Our local service providers are delivering effective and safe care for patients via telephone and telehealth in areas where on-site services are reduced or eliminated during the COVID-19 crisis.”
Dutton emphasized that treatment services are available in South Carolina through DAODAS’ system of state-licensed and nationally accredited service providers. For information on how to access treatment in our state, call 803-896-5555, or if you are experiencing substance use issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, call the 24/7 support line at 1-844-SC-HOPES.
DHEC, DAODAS and other organizations have additional resources available to learn more about opioid misuse and overdose prevention:
- For resources on overdose prevention, finding a recovery provider, pain management and overdose data, visit www.justplainkillers.com
- Naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, is available without a prescription. For patients with insurance or payment concerns, many community distributors offer free doses of Narcan®. For more information visit naloxonesavessc.org
- Medication disposal sites are available for unused prescriptions. For a location near you at justplainkillers.com/drug-safety
- During the upcoming National Prescription Take Back Day on Oct 24, additional locations will be available for the safe, convenient, and responsible disposal of unused or expired prescription drugs. A complete list of locations will be available and posted in the coming weeks at takebackday.dea.gov.
- Additional information about DHEC opioid prevention programs for families and community organizations is available at www.scdhec.gov/opioid-epidemic.
- Healthcare providers can help identify and intervene with patients at risk for psychosocial or healthcare problems related to substance use using the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model.
“There are many resources available to help prevent, respond and treat opioid use disorder,” Kennedy said. “We encourage people to use these resources to learn about the risks of opioids, about opioid antidotes and where to get them, and learn how to help people struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment. Everyone has a role to play.”
DHEC’s efforts to address opioid overdoses in South Carolina also include:
- DHEC’s Division of EMS created the Law Enforcement Officer Naloxone (LEON) and Reduction of Opioid Loss of Life (ROLL) programs to train law enforcement and fire department agencies across South Carolina to identify, treat and report drug overdoses attributed to opioids. These response initiatives have made a significant impact across the state. As of July 31, officers and firefighters reported 574 Narcan administrations for suspected overdoses through these programs.
- The Community Opioid Paramedic Education or COPE program is a post-overdose outreach program in which Narcan-rescued individuals are assessed for wellness, given harm reduction information, offered a HIV and Hepatitis C test and are provided access to treatment.
- Participating in the state’s Opioid Emergency Response Team (OERT) and leads leading prevention and response activities for the team. Since April 2020, a Rapid Response Team has monitored data from the Bureau of EMS and Trauma on suspected opioid overdoses at the state level. This group issues bulletins on behalf of the OERT to key stakeholder groups for situational awareness. The collaborative effort enables state-level staff to engage county-level counterparts in high-burden areas to encourage targeted response efforts.
- DHEC partners with healthcare systems to provide opioid-related education for doctors and health care providers, including training of more than 700 providers to date.
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