Charleston sees the most drug-involved overdose deaths in SC for 2017

Charleston sees the most drug-involved overdose deaths in SC for 2017
Published: Aug. 23, 2018 at 7:49 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 23, 2018 at 9:44 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - New numbers from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control show Charleston County had the most drug-related overdose deaths of any other county in South Carolina in 2017.

The new report from DHEC points out a state-wide increase in opioid-involved overdose deaths.

From 2014 to 2017, South Carolina has seen a 47% increase in opioid overdose deaths.

"Deaths due to drug overdose have been recognized as a significant public health burden in the United States in recent years," the report explained. "The surge in deaths involving illicit drugs is in response to the increased availability of illicit substances such as non-pharmaceutical fentanyl."

DHEC's report breaks down drug-involved overdose deaths in each South Carolina county.

In 2017, Charleston County had 118 total drug-involved overdose deaths, making it the county with the most drug-involved overdose deaths in the state.

"A word that comes to me--it's traumatic, it's horrible, it's difficult to live with," said Melissa Kersey.

Opioid-involved overdoses have touched Melissa Kersey's life. Her son has almost died from a few drug-related overdoses.

"It's been about two years, two and a half," Kersey said. "Such a struggle."

DHEC's report also points out Georgetown County had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2017, which totaled 36.2%.

Only 5 of 46 counties saw a decrease in drug-related overdose deaths last year, including Berkeley County.

27 people died of drug-involved overdose deaths in Berkeley County in 2017, compared to 34 deaths in 2016-that yields a 20.6% decrease.

Tony Winstead from the Mount Pleasant Police Department heads a new program, First Step, that aims to help curb the opioid overdose epidemic and lead to more decreases in overdose deaths.

The program connects opioid users and their families with recovery services while victims are in the hospital after an overdose.

"It's a win-win," Winstead said. "If we can help somebody, obviously we're trying to save somebody's life. And it's reducing our crime stats, too."

The program just started in July and it's the first of its kind in South Carolina. They've already helped 11 people with addiction and 6 family members. They expect to help a lot more.

"Yeah, it's definitely going to be an issue that we're going to be dealing with for many years to come," Winstead said.

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