SCDHEC – South Carolina Overdose Death Data for 2020 Shows Stark Increase during First Year of COVID-19 Pandemic

Rising overdose deaths were driven by an increased presence of fentanyl

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Today, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released its annual Drug Overdose Deaths Statistical Report for South Carolina. The data within the report shows a significant increase in drug overdose deaths for the year 2020 – the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

From 2019 to 2020, the total number of opioid-involved overdose deaths in South Carolina increased by 59 percent, from 876 to 1,400. The total number of all drug overdoses increased by 53 percent across the state, from 1,131 to 1,734. This 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 Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “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.”

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

Nationally, to include 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 percent in South Carolina, from 537 to 1,100. Fentanyl was involved in 79 percent 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 (DAODAS). “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.”

The Just Plain Killers dashboard maintained by DAODAS is in the process of being updated to reflect the 2020 data. The dashboard provides county-level breakdowns of drug overdose deaths and prescription drug dispersion, among other drug-related information. Just Plain Killers is an education initiative of DAODAS and the state’s Opioid Emergency Response Team (OERT), which is a collaboration between DAODAS, DHEC, South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and others. 

There are resources available for anyone experiencing substance use issues. For information on how to access help, treatment, or information, contact DAODAS at 803-896-5555. Anyone experiencing substance use issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic can call a 24/7 support line at 1-844-SC-HOPES, which is operated by DAODAS and the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

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