Impact opioid crisis has had on EMS, first responders and child welfare system in SC

Published: Sep. 25, 2019 at 9:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On any given day in the Palmetto State, Naloxone or Narcan is used to save someone's life.

The overdose-reversal drug has been an important tool in fighting the opioid crisis. Dr. Arnold Alier is the Director of the EMS Division at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. He said, “The true fact is for many of these folks this is the last call.”

The number of Naloxone or Narcan administrations have increased statewide every year since 2014 according to data from DHEC.

It was used 8,187 times by EMS across the state in 2018. Dr. Alier said EMS across the state have seen an increase in call volume.

There has been some relief, thanks to other first responders.

Dr. Alier said more than 9,000 law enforcement officers have been trained to carry and administer Narcan through the Law Enforcement Officer Narcan (LEON) program.

Since January 2016, they have saved hundreds of lives. Some of the agencies that have administered the most Narcan include the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, York County Sheriff’s Office and the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

Some firefighters have been trained as well. About 1380 firefighters have been trained to carry and administer Narcan through the Reduce Opioid Loss of Life (ROLL) program.

Dr. Alier said, "Many times they are the first, first responders on the scene. When minutes count they make a huge impact."

You can purchase Naloxone over the counter at certain pharmacies in South Carolina. Here is a list of participating pharmacies.

You can find a list of community distributors here.

Dr. Alier said the rescue is the first step in getting someone the help they need. "You cannot put somebody in recovery who did not survive their overdose."

The opioid crisis has also had an impact on families in South Carolina. Dr. Angela Moreland at the Medical University of South Carolina has looked into that impact. She also has studied the link between trauma and opioid use disorder.

"It changes brain chemistry and it is an illness in the brain. If they could stop they would stop. The problem is we aren't addressing it in the right way," she said.

According to Dr. Moreland, data has shown there has been an increase in the number of children in welfare when the crisis really took off. It is difficult to point to this as the main cause for that, however.

Dr. Moreland said opioid use disorder can hinder someone’s executive function, impulse control, and decision making. She said those are things you need as a parent.

She said rates of child welfare are very high among opioid using parents. "Parents with opioid use disorder versus other substance uses have very similar types of child maltreatment in their children. They have similar rates of child welfare involvement, but their length of involvement in child welfare tends to be much longer with parents with opioid disorder."

Dr. Moreland said treatments are evolving to help parents deal with the stresses of parenting while receiving treatment.

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