As the opioid crisis continues and more overdoses are reported in the state, representatives from Sumter, Lee, Clarendon and Kershaw counties met Wednesday to discuss ways to get ahead of the problem as a region.
The strategic planning session, …
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The strategic planning session, hosted by Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments in the Reynolds Gallery at the University of South Carolina Sumter, called together coroner's office, EMS, law enforcement and health center employees from each county.
Chris McKinney, executive director of the council, said the opioid problem, a crisis slamming the entire nation, is something he has been asked to address since he was hired in October.
He said the purpose of the session was to get all the smart people - the people who deal with this issue everyday - together and forget about county and city lines to make incremental gains.
Bobby Hingst, director of Sumter County EMS, said his department has responded to 137 opioid overdoses since Jan. 1 - 101 of which involved heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic 100 times more potent than morphine - showing a 170 percent increase compared to the 50 opioid overdoses between July and December 2017.
Many of the 137 were people who have been treated for an overdose multiple times since the beginning of the year, he said. A significantly low number resulted in death.
That was new information to the other officials at Sumter's table, including Glenn Peagler, director of Sumter Behavioral Health Services, who noted most people judge the opioid problem based on the number of overdose deaths.
He said the reason Sumter has been designated a low risk area is because of the low number of deaths.
Opioid overdoses can also be underrepresented on death certificates when a symptom of the overdose is listed as the cause of death, said Kathy Cheek, substance abuse care program manager at Sumter Family Health Center.
The stigma of drug overdose deaths is hurting local agencies when they seek funding to address the problem, she said.
"We do admit in Kershaw County we have a problem," said Mara Jones, with ALPHA Behavioral Health Center.
Some facilities are tapped out on treatment resources, including staff, and potential patients have died while waiting for treatment, she said.
Jones said best practice evidence shows outpatient treatment combined with medication-assisted treatment and cognitive counseling is the most significant form of long-term recovery.
In-patient care takes place in a restricted environment where the person does not learn to adjust to real-life situations, making it easier to relapse once they are released, she said.
The medications used for this kind of treatment shuts down a person's opioid craving, which is constantly pushing the person to seek more drugs, and allows them to focus on learning recovery skills, she said.
"Their brain never turns off from the craving," she said.
And while some may have an issue with substituting one drug for another, they need to know someone on the treatment medication is taking care of his or her family and being a productive member of society, Jones said.
A person on opioids is committing crimes and draining the tax payer system, she said.
Cheek said Sumter Family Health Center is planning to partner with Sumter Behavioral Health Services to provide medication-assisted treatment and counseling for opioid addicts for people with various insurance providers or even no insurance.
But, ultimately, the person has to be invested in getting better, she said.
On average, Jones said, it takes seven attempts at treatment before a person with an addiction gets clean and sober.
Representatives from the four counties also discussed methods of educating the public about the dangers of opioids, including getting into the schools.
It may be difficult for some people to accept that kind of information going into an elementary school, Hingst said, but you have to start early because learning habits are established at a young age. And education has to continue throughout middle and high school, he said.
There also needs to be resources for students who already have a problem with opioids, he said, which can be prescription pain pills or heroin.
Cheek said local agencies also need to address barriers such as transportation blocking a person's path to treatment and recovery, especially in rural parts of the region.
Other suggestions for education included providing information during prenatal care visits, posting eye-catching information online, offering incentives for those seeking treatment and making a memorable message that can be shared throughout the four-county region.
The representatives decided that Santee-Lynches would collect opioid overdose data for each of the four counties and create and disseminate an awareness message that will be shared in each county.
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