South Carolina drug overdose deaths increase 50% in 2020
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Drug overdose deaths in South Carolina increased by more than 50% after the COVID-19 pandemic started, state health officials said,
Final figures from death certificates show 1,734 people died in drug overdoses in South Carolina in 2020, a 53% increase from the 1,131 deaths reported in 2019, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said.
Officials said 1,400 of those 2020 overdose deaths were caused by opioids and fentanyl was involved in 79 percent of those fatal opioid overdoses.
“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,” DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a statement.
The sharpest increase in overdose deaths weren’t in teens or young adults, but in people from 35 to 55, said Tramaine McMullen, Opioid Grants Manager for DHEC.
“We have a lot of people who are working age who are struggling and need help,” McMullen said.
State health officials said they are working with the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, mental health professionals, law enforcement, federal officials and community groups to fight overdoses.
But they said they want to be careful in how law enforcement gets used to target people who sell and provide drugs illegally.
What we want to be absolutely sure of is we are not criminalizing people who are sick,” said Sara Goldsby, executive director at the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.