While state officials are concerned South Carolina saw a significant increase in opioid overdose deaths last year, one county bucked the trend.
Horry County saw 24 percent fewer deaths in 2017, according to data released Monday by the state Opioid Emergency Response Team. The county dropped from the state’s highest total for deaths at 101 in 2016 to 77 deaths a year later.
Shoreline Behavioral Health System director John Coffin said county officials worked to offer medication-assisted treatment. Coffin said the county also moved away from abstinence-based after noticing a “90 percent failure” rate. Law enforcement also began to carry the overdose-reversal Narcan.
“We went from having almost nobody in medication-assisted treatment to over 200 people,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So that’s a big change.”
Shoreline is the county’s alcohol and drug abuse authority.
However Coffin did warn the region still saw a rise in deaths tied with fentanyl, a more unstable form of heroin compound. Even with the improvement, Horry still had the highest number of total overdose deaths among South Carolina counties. But, unlike the Charleston, Columbia and Greenville metro areas, Myrtle Beach saw a decline.
Coffin said health officials in the Grand Strand are treating addiction as a public health crisis, similar to more common diseases such as diabetes. “The problem is the stigma associated with (opioid addiction) makes people reluctant to look for help,” he said.
State officials say the data show a lot of work is still needed in South Carolina to fight addiction and its potential fatal consequences. The total number of prescription drug-involved overdose deaths in South Carolina increased by 37% in just three years, from 572 deaths in 2014 to 782 in 2017. The increase was driven by heroin-involved overdose deaths, which nearly tripled in the same span. Overall, fentanyl-involved overdose deaths saw a more than four-fold increase from 68 deaths in 2014 to 362 deaths in 2017.
Deaths due to methadone also continue to decrease from 79 in 2014 to 45 in 2017, which is consistent with national trends..