COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The state of South Carolina spent $240,000 in 2016 on the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone, bringing thousands of people back from the brink of death.
That data, compiled by DHEC, said in 2016 EMS personnel administered the lifesaving drug 6,400 times statewide, marking a 39 percent increase from 2015. Narcan, the drug most often used to reverse an overdose, costs $37.50 per dose.
DHEC offers gr ants to local partners and law enforcement agencies like the Richland County Sheriff's Department to supply deputies with naloxone. The department said since receiving the drug in 2016, deputies have administered it four times.
"Often, EMS and fire are on scene before us and are able to render aid to the person suffering the overdose," Master Deputy Greg Parker said. "But it's important we carry it on us because it can also protect us."
Parker said with the rise in popularity of fentanyl, even a trace amount can be fatal to a deputy or K-9 that comes in contact with it.
"We might be searching a car and touching things in there and we can come into contact with us and it's absorbed through the pores on our skin and it can be fatal," he said.
Naloxone, often referred to as name brands Narcan or Evzio, is also available over the counter without a prescription.
According to the New England Medical Journal, prices have surged in recent years, so much so many experts say the drug has become hard for those who need it most, to obtain.
The journal said in 2014, a two-dose Evzio package was priced at $690. In just two years, the price increased by 500 percent to $4,500 per package.
Federal lawmakers have been working over the last several years to pass measures requiring manufacturers to lower the price of the drug, thus making it more available to those who may need it. Without insurance, Narcan costs between $130 and $150. However, most people with coverage pay a co-pay of around $10.
Deputy Parker said while some see it as enabling the drug user, he sees it as an opportunity to give someone a second chance at life.
"It's their choice to put that drug in their body," he said. "Does that mean you give up on them? No, it doesn't. If I can give you a second chance, hopefully, you coming near death because of that overdose will spur you into getting some help."
In 2016, there were 616 opioid-related deaths in South Carolina, a 3.7 percent increase from 2015.
Parker said a recent traffic stop and subsequent drug arrest resulted in deputies finding both heroin and Narcan.
"While we were searching their persons, they had Narcan in their heroin kit," he said. "Just as a precaution in case they overdosed or their partner overdosed they could shoot them with the Narcan and bring them back."
Thom Duddy, vice president of corporate communications for Adapt Pharma, the company that manufacturers Narcan, said the road to illicit drug abuse often begins with prescription opioids.
"We see we're reviving these people three or four times and it's a process to how they got to that point, a very complex process," he said. "Some people require many attempts to get it, so in the meantime, the goal is to keep them alive until they can get through however many attempts it takes to get recovered."
Naloxone can also be used to reverse the overdose effects of prescription opioids, such as sleeping pills.