CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – The COVID-19 pandemic is killing people in more ways than just the infection of the coronavirus. The last year of lock downs, uncertainty and the loss of loved ones is correlating with a dramatic rise in overdose deaths.
A recent report published by the CDC in August suggests the increase in South Carolina is as high as 53.8 percent. The report recorded the number of overdose deaths in January 2020 as 1,148. That number rose to 1,767 in January of 2021.
These numbers outpace the national increase of 30.5 percent.
Most of the United States saw a significant increase in drug overdoses. Only three states – South Dakota, New Hampshire and New Jersey saw the numbers go in the opposite direction.
South Dakota logged the most significant gains with overdoses decreasing by nearly 14 percent year over year.
Ed Johnson is the board chair for Favor Lowcountry, a non-profit organization promoting long-term recovery from substance abuse disorders. He says the last year and a half has been especially tough for those struggling with addiction.
“Folks with substance abuse disorder do not respond will to isolation. The isolation imposed by COVID-19 just increased the odds of an overdose,” Johnson said, acknowledging that COVID is not the only issue. “Fentanyl has made it into not just opioids but a lot of other drugs that are misused – meth, cocaine, crack, marijuana. It’s made it across the board.”
The DEA says fentanyl is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine and Johnson argues many people who overdose have no idea they’re taking drugs laced with fentanyl.
Johnson says stigma is a big problem. He says many people experiencing an overdose are unwilling to seek medical treatment out of fear of judgement or free of being arrested.
“The people in the emergency room are not going to call law enforcement to come and cart them off. That doesn’t happen,” Johnson said. “State law was amended a couple years ago where law enforcement who would accompany EMTs will not arrest somebody for anything that is on sight during that incident.”
Today is International National Overdose Awareness Day. Favor is offering free Narcan kits which can reverse an overdose. For more information on how to obtain one of those kits call 843-620-9333
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