Coroner reports dramatic spike in opioid overdose deaths in Richland County

Coroner reports dramatic spike in opioid overdose deaths in Richland County

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The face of a nationwide drug epidemic could be your mother, your brother or your neighbor.

It's the assessment of Richland County Coroner Gary Watts, who has seen a dramatic spike in opioid overdose deaths across the county in 2017. After a two-part investigation last week into the kinds of lethal cocktails hitting the streets, WIS is continuing to follow the opioid crisis.

"The main culprit seems to be fentanyl that people are taking direct," said Watts, "or they're taking heroin that's been mixed with fentanyl."

Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin, making the dose potentially lethal on immediate consumption.

"You have no idea what you're putting in your body," Watts said. "They're injecting it, snorting it, eating it. Any way they can get it in their system."

So far in 2017, 47 people have died from an opioid overdose. Just halfway through the year, that number surpasses the 2016 death toll, which was 44

Watts and other Midlands coroners now track the number of specific opioid overdose deaths. It's part of an effort to work with law enforcement to curb the drugs, and to spread awareness to

"We're seeing people that are basically dying with the needle still in their arm," Watts said. "If you're using these drugs if you're using the fentanyl or the carfentanil or the heroin. Every time you use it you're playing Russian roulette."

At this rate, Watts is seeing two to three deaths per week due to mixtures of opiates. He told WIS at this rate, the county could hit 100 overdose deaths before 2018.

"This is a powerful addiction and people will do anything to get this drug."

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