Participation in DHEC’s Biosurveillance program increases awareness of deadly fentanyl overdose trends
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
December 3, 2021
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is recognizing MUSC Health Kershaw Medical Center, formerly KershawHealth, hospital lab for being the first contributor to submit 1,000 samples to DHEC’s rapidly-expanding Opioid Biosurveillance Program, which helps identify and track fentanyl overdoses across South Carolina.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, as the leading cause of drug overdose in the United States. Although fentanyl is available by prescription in limited cases, most overdose deaths are due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl that is often mixed into illegally trafficked and unregulated street drugs.
Kershaw Medical Center’s laboratory works with the DHEC Public Health Laboratory (PHL) to support the statewide biosurveillance initiative by providing de-identified urine samples from suspected overdose patients. DHEC then analyzes these samples for 16 different fentanyl compounds. An aggregate report is provided back to the hospital, which they can then share with key stakeholders at the community level to help them better understand trends and develop effective responses.
“Many people who die from fentanyl overdose appear to have been unaware that they were using the drug. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States,” said Dr. Virginie Daguise, Director of DHEC’s Bureau of Chronic Diseases and Injury Prevention. “This data is providing us with valuable information to target prevention, treatment, and harm-reduction interventions for reducing this public health threat and saving lives.”
In South Carolina, fentanyl-involved deaths increased eight-fold between 2014 and 2019, and the drug was a factor in almost half of all drug-related deaths in the state last year. Of the nine opioid-involved overdose deaths in Kershaw County in 2019, fentanyl was involved in eight of them.
“This information is vital and very relevant for the trends we are seeing in our community and around the country now,” said Lt. Brad Lawson with the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit. “I believe the information will continue to help us with being able to stay on top or at least very knowledgeable on what is going on in the community.”
Since October of last year, Kershaw Medical Center has provided more than 1,400 samples to DHEC as of Dec. 1, breaking the 1,000-sample milestone back on July 29.
“By embracing this program, Kershaw Medical Center isn’t just helping the state and federal government understand the scope of the fentanyl problem, they are sharing information that helps protect the community that they serve,” said Mike Tredway, Opioid Outreach Coordinator at the DHEC Public Health Laboratory. “We are extremely appreciative of their robust efforts and the active role they take in relaying the information back out to the community.”
More than 38 healthcare facilities across the state are now participating in the CDC-funded biosurveillance initiative.
According to the 2019 Drug Overdose Deaths Report released with the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, from 2018 to 2019 the total number of opioid-involved overdose deaths in South Carolina increased by 7%, from 816 to 876. The total number of all drug overdoses increased by 3% across the state, from 1,103 to 1,131. A map-based, county-level data dashboard with 2019 overdose information is located at www.justplainkillers.com/data.
The opioid antidote naloxone, when administered in time, can reverse the effects of overdose from drugs including prescription opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and others), heroin, and fentanyl. First responders typically administer naloxone as a nasal spray; it has no psychoactive effects and presents no harm when administered to someone not experiencing an opioid overdose. For more information visit www.naloxonesavessc.org.
DHEC’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) regulates and monitors paramedic usage of the opioid antidote naloxone and trains first responders on proper use of naloxone through the Law Enforcement Officer Naloxone (LEON) program for police and the Reducing Opioid Loss of Life (ROLL) program for firefighters.
As of December 2021, the LEON program has trained and equipped more than 12,900 police officers in 262 organizations across the state, while ROLL includes more than 3,172 firefighters in 189 units.