COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — According to the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS), in 2020 there were 61 deaths involving fentanyl in Richland County alone.
During the same year, the county also saw more than 400 hospitalizations for opioids and more than 500 times where naloxone was administered to someone overdosing.
“Fentanyl is a problem. Fentanyl is killing people,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. “You don’t see the overdoses that we see. They’re not publicized.”
According to the CDC, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
“Fentanyl is a drug that is a depressant. It will slow your heart rate and breathing down to the point where you can no longer sustain life,” said Naida Rutherford, Richland County coroner. “It’s like you go to sleep and never wake up again.”
Fentanyl is prescribed in anesthesia or pain management but in much lower doses than the fentanyl-laced pills on the streets.
“Fentanyl is normally prescribed in a tiny amount like point 25. When you see someone taking a pill with 10 milligrams of fentanyl, you can understand why their cardiopulmonary system would arrest at that point,” the coroner said.
Officials say many people dying of fentanyl are doing other drugs that unknown to them are laced with the powerful opioid.
“People think they’re taking a Percocet or a pain pill with OxyContin, but it’s been laced with Fentanyl as well,” said Randy Rush, director of The Courage Center. “We recently had an overdose death here in Lexington County. The person would have never known that they were taking fentanyl.”
This is why the Richland County coroner says if you know a family member has a drug addiction or even uses drugs recreationally, it’s a good idea to have Narcan. The drug can be administered in the event of an overdose.
“If you have an at risk family member, you can go to LRADAC,” Rutherford said. “They will give you Narcan for free if you notice one of your family members or friends having drug problems. Drug overdoses don’t happen in a silo. People typically do drugs together. Eighty percent happen in a group setting or with someone else.”
The Courage Center is working with Lexington County EMS to help those who have previously overdosed.
“We will give them Narcan. We will give them fentanyl test strips so they can see if what they’re using is laced with fentanyl,” Rush said. “We want people to stay alive so they can begin their life in recovery. We will pair them up with recovery coaches and peer support specialists. These are people with lived experiences who will walk beside them on that journey.”