As COVID-19 pandemic grows, so does South Carolina's opioid problem

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 8:00 AM EDT
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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) -- The opioid epidemic is getting worse, and the COVID-19 pandemic could be to blame.

For many folks who may be struggling, times of social isolation drive feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, and drug abusers use opioids to relieve this stress.

Sara Goldsby, the director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, says they have seen about a 30% increase in EMS response to overdose in the last few months. They say these are numbers that are similar across the entire United States as well as in South Carolina.

“We know that people’s routines have been altered," Goldsby says. “In fact, we see an elevated number of overdose incidents during the weekdays now, compared to we are used to seeing them over the weekends, so we know some things have shifted and changed with the social isolation and the circumstances.”

DAODAS works closely with law enforcement to get weekly numbers of how many overdoses and boxes of Narcan are used in a day.

Each time a law enforcement officer administers Narcan to counteract the effects of an overdose or responds to someone suspected of having an overdose, DAODAS receives those numbers within a day or two.

They say when things first started shutting down with the pandemic, they distributed 7,000 boxes of NARCAN to individuals at home who either previously had an overdose or who they suspected would.

DAODAS officials took this preventive measure because they knew many folks weren’t going to be able to leave their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic or for comfortable walking into a clinic.

They also say they expect to look back after the pandemic and see an increase in mortality and overdose. They attribute this to changes in daily routines for so many people.

They said they realize that isolation drives feelings of stress, anxiety and depression and drug abusers use opioids to relieve this stress.

This is something researchers and medical staff at MUSC have been working to provide more ways to reach people in need during this time.

“If anybody is needing access to care, we are here, we are here at MUSC, we’re here at the state and every county in the state has availability for treatment right now,” MUSC Addiction Psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Barth said. “If you have been previously hesitant about entering treatment, this is a wonderful time to come into treatment. Again, Telehealth might make it easier to access care for some individuals. For those who don’t have access to technology, again we’re here in person, or we can figure something out with a combination of in office Telehealth verses in-person treatment.”

Barth says at MUSC they have actually been able to reach and manage more patients over the last few months by connecting over the phone and through video conferencing. She added that some people are more comfortable with first seeking help over the phone or video rather than having to physically come in.

MUSC hopes to be able to use Telehealth and electronic communication more often even after the pandemic is over.

If you want more information or think you need help or treatment, call the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Services: 803-896-5555

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