(Rock Hill, S.C.) — There were 60 total deaths caused by drug overdoses in York County in 2017, however, 45 of those were opioid related, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
Winthrop University Health Services hosted a panel, in partnership with Rock Hill based Keystone Substance Abuse Services, about opioid abuse in York County on March 26.
Panelists from Keystone said substance abuse is not only a problem in inner-city communities; it is also found in rural areas and other lower socioeconomic areas outside of large cities.
Keystone clinician Jeffrey Whitney leads an intensive outpatient program for young adults ages 18-28.
He said the biggest issue with opioid abuse is that it starts with prescription drugs and when a person becomes addicted to a prescribed medication, like oxycodone, they may look for a cheaper, synthetic opioid to satisfy their addiction.
“The scary trend (in York County) is you’re seeing these newer types of pills coming out. They’re pressed pills and they’re made in someone’s garage. They contain fentanyl and carfentanil and they’re not dosing it correctly,” Whitney said.
A person addicted to opioids could buy about six pressed pills for only $10, according to Whitney. The real pills, made by large pharmaceutical companies, are more expensive and could cost $30 per pill.
Fentanyl can cause respiratory distress and lead to death when taken in large doses. However, carfentanil is much stronger than fentanyl and the drug is often used to tranquilize elephants and other large mammals. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
Some of the warning signs of an opioid overdose include paleness, slow breathing and loss of conscience.
One of the goals of the panel discussion was to educate students on where to go if they know someone who may be at risk of an overdose.
Abi Steele, a Keystone prevention specialist, said Keystone offices, local pharmacies and police departments can distribute naloxone, also known as Narcan, which is used to temporarily treat drug overdoses.
Narcan is administered to a person to keep them “safe” until they be taken to a hospital. If needed, a person can be given more than one dose of Narcan to reverse the overdose.
Winthrop encourages students, who may be in danger due to a drug or alcohol related overdose, to seek emergency treatment by calling Campus Police, without fear of disciplinary action, according to university policy.
The panelists also encouraged students to properly dispose of prescription drugs to prevent drug abuse. Students can take leftover prescription drugs to the Campus Police medicine drive and dump them in a secure dropbox.
Campus Police will then destroy those medications so they are not accessible to others. These medicine drop boxes are also available at local pharmacies.
Steele and the prevention team at Keystone often host educational summits intended to help prevent opioid overdoses.
“We do run into families who have had people who have been affected by this opioid epidemic and we give them the education and resources they need. We work hand-and-hand with the police department; they are equipped to (provide) Narcan,” she said. “It’s a community effort; we all are building on each others skills so that we can interact with this opioid epidemic and try to get it to a lower number.”
Students can become involved in this community effort through Keystone’s volunteering and internship opportunities.