As treatment centers see increased demand, surveillance program seeks to raise awareness about opioid epidemic

Published: Dec. 4, 2021 at 1:18 AM EST
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CAMDEN, S.C. (WIS) - Drug overdose deaths rose by nearly 52 percent statewide in 2020, and experts say that the use of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, is driving this increase.

LRADAC, which offers prevention and intervention services in both Lexington and Richland counties, is seeing increased demand at its treatment centers this year.

This comes as an effort from DHEC, MUSC Health Kershaw Medical Center and other healthcare facilities across the state seeks to address the opioid epidemic head-on.

According to DHEC data, fentanyl-involved deaths increased eight-fold between 2014 and 2019 in South Carolina. This trend was worsened by the pandemic, Dr. Robert Borucki, LRADAC’s Medical Director, said.

“We’ve noticed upticks in fentanyl slowly over the last 10 years, but it escalated rapidly over the last two years so that does coincide with the pandemic and the shutdown and flooding our market with fentanyl,” Borucki, who is also Board Certified in Addiction Medicine, said.

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

Borucki said fentanyl is being found in many street drugs, often times unknown to the user.

“This has exploded over the last few years,” he said. “A lot of it comes out of China and Mexico, and it’s created huge problems. Some of these pills have lethal doses in them for people who don’t use opioids and want to try it the first time.”

With the large increase in requests for treatment, LRADAC has made some adjustments.

“We have increased our personnel to be able to handle the increased demand, and we are seeing a lot more every week,” Borucki said.

DHEC’s Opioid Biosurveillance Program identifies and tracks fentanyl overdoses statewide, hoping to use the data to target treatment efforts.

More than 38 healthcare facilities across the state are partnering with DHEC through the initiative.

MUSC Health Kershaw Medical Center is the first program partner to submit 1,000 de-identified urine samples from suspected overdose patients.

Once submitted, DHEC analyzes the samples for 16 fentanyl compounds, and a report is sent back to the hospital. From there, the data is shared with community stakeholders to better understand trends and develop prevention strategies.

“This is just the beginning of a long road, but I think that in general it’s a very positive step in the right direction,” Dr. Fritz Basile, Medical Director for MUSC Kershaw’s Emergency Department, said.

Of the 1,400 samples collected from MUSC Kershaw’s medical department in the last year, 42 percent came back positive for fentanyl.

“A lot of patients that have overdosed in my Emergency Department, once you resuscitate them and the smoke has kind of cleared, you tell them that they had fentanyl in their system and their eyes light up and they’re just in complete disbelief,” Basile said.

Basile said shining a light on the fentanyl issue is key.

“If you don’t know that a problem exists, then you can’t do anything to fix it,” he said. “And so obviously collecting this data and seeing how prevalent fentanyl is within our community, it’s raised awareness with law enforcement, it’s raised awareness within our healthcare partners and most importantly within the community.”

Both doctors urge anyone struggling with substance use disorder to seek out access to Naloxone, the life-saving overdose medication.

LRADAC also offers fentanyl test kits at their treatment centers. These allow people to take a small sample of a pill or powder and mix it in the test kit to prove whether the drug has fentanyl.Copyright 2021 WIS. All rights reserved.

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