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A comprehensive public education campaign, targeted programming and a laser-like focus on recovery are strategies the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services is employing to try to prevent deaths from opioid overdoses in the state.

Newly confirmed DAODAS Director Sara Goldsby said while more people are seeking treatment for opioid abuse, the opioid crisis has not yet leveled off because the state is still seeing more overdoses and more deaths from overdoses.

“We’ve been working on this issue for the last five years … and as we look at some of the data and areas in the state that have been hit hardest, we’re still trying to reach the public with education … about the drivers of this issue and empower them with ways that they can actually turn this around,” Goldsby said.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reports that the number of deaths from heroin and opioid overdoses outnumbered murders in 2015, with fatal heroin overdoses having increased by 67 percent from 2014 to 2015.

DHEC also reports the cause of death of 550 people in South Carolina in 2016 was listed as prescription opioid overdose, up 18 percent from 464 in 2014.

A total of 616 opioid-related overdose deaths were reported in South Carolina in 2016, representing a 3.7 percent increase from the 594 overdose deaths that occurred in 2015.

There were four opioid-involved overdose deaths in Orangeburg County in 2016. None were reported in Bamberg and Calhoun counties, but it was noted that might be because of a lack of specific reporting information.

DAODAS was awarded a two-year $13.2 million grant titled State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis in April 2017. With 17 initiatives and more than 60 partners, DAODAS is poised to use their funds to pursue a comprehensive response to opioid issues in the state.

As part of the grant, DAODAS has launched its Just Plain Killers campaign (justplainkillers.com), which focuses on educating the public about safe storage and disposal of opioid medications.

“Storing prescription drugs safely is a main issue. We've got some knowledge … about these parties where children are taking medicines from their medicine cabinet, showing up with a bunch of other kids and dumping these prescription pills in a bowl. That’s how they're initiating the misuse of these substances,” Goldsby said.

She said the safe disposal of opioids is just as key as their safe storage.

“The DEA has two 'take back' days annually, but we've been working with a number of partners around the state to get permanent drop-off locations,” Goldsby said. She said a list of permanent statewide drop box locations can be found at the justplainkillers.com website.

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Funded by a five-year, $3.2 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the state Overdose Prevention Project exists to reduce South Carolina's overall number of deaths related to opioid misuse.

“We’ve also done a lot of targeted programming. We believe equipping our first responders, particularly our law enforcement officers, with naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan) so they can reverse overdose deaths is going to be one of the main things that really turns our mortality rate in the other direction,” Goldsby said.

The Orangeburg Department of Public Safety is preparing to combat opioid misuse by training city officers to use Narcan, a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

ODPS Chief Mike Adams appeared before Orangeburg City Council on March 6 to talk about the state’s growing opioid problem, including how the S.C. Overdose Prevention Act is being used to stem the tide of abuse deaths.

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To combat the drug problem, Adams said the department recently sent two officers to a course on how to administer Narcan. The officers are now certified Narcan instructors who will instruct the other members of the agency.

The goal of the department is to get all of its officers trained and to train officers from the local universities so it will have certified Narcan users on the campuses as backups, Adams said.

“Not only can law enforcement officers now have this and reverse overdose,” but the development of a statewide distribution also makes naloxone available and easily accessible to at-risk citizens regardless of their ability to pay for the medication, Goldsby said.

“The public can, in fact, go to a pharmacy and get naloxone without a prescription in the state. Getting pharmacies to stock it is the first thing, but then making the public aware that if they know somebody who’s at risk for overdose, they can zip over to their pharmacy and get this drug just by filling out a little bit of paperwork,” she said.

For information on the availability of naloxone through pharmacies statewide, visit the naloxonesavessc.org website.

“In addition to the treatment and intervention, we’re really working on this recovery piece. Our aim … is to really talk about addiction the way we talk about other chronic diseases like diabetes or asthma, to normalize this as a brain disease – a chronic, relapsing and sometimes fatal disease,” Goldsby said.

“As hard as it is to see sometimes, there are a lot of people who are successfully achieving recovery," she said. "We’ve got to hang on to those stories."

The Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse serves the community through The Dawn Center, its adult services program, and the William J. McCord Adolescent Treatment Facility in Orangeburg.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter @DionneTandD.

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