SC receives $3M grant to combat opioid addiction, overdoses

The grant will help train first responders to recognize an opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone when an overdose occurs


By Tripp Girardeau
The Aiken Standard

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. — Aiken County is no exception in South Carolina’s fight against opioid addiction, and with a nearly $3.2 million statewide grant, officials are hoping to see reductions in the number of overdose-related deaths both statewide and locally.

In September, the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services received a federal grant of approximately $3,192,772 to reduce the number of prescription drug/opioid overdose-related deaths and adverse events in the state.

The grant was awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Training will help save lives
South Carolina is one of 12 states to receive funding through the five-year grant, said Jimmy Mount, public information officer and training coordinator with the Administration.

“This grant will allow for a trainer to come from the Department of Health and Environmental Control to areas all over the state to train first responders and law enforcement to recognize an opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone when overdose occurs,” Mount said. “This will save lives.”

Naloxone blocks or reverses the effects of opioid medication, which includes extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing, or loss of consciousness, Mount said. It is used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation.

The federal Administration will partner in this initiative with the S.C. DHEC’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

The initiative will train first responders at agencies in areas of high need by implementing a train-the-trainer methodology, leading officers and deputies who train forces regularly to facilitate ongoing trainings of officers and deputies as needed, Mount said.

“The Aiken Center will be a main focus in Aiken County for training first responders,” he said. “Those being trained will learn to identify when an overdose is taking place and then learn to administer the naloxone. The trainees will then be able to train members of the community who may have a family member who is an opioid addict that is at high risk for an overdose.”

The development of a statewide distribution system will make naloxone available and easily accessible to trained first responders and to at-risk individuals, regardless of their ability to pay for the medication, Mount said.

Opiate addiction in Aiken County
Alphia Dunbar, director of prevention services with The Aiken Center, said the center’s location at 1105 Gregg Ave. is a safe place to come for those suffering from an addiction, no matter if the addiction is alcohol or drug-related.

From 2007 to 2012, there has been a spike in the number of opiate addiction admissions in South Carolina, according to a study released by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Mount said Aiken County appears to be on the lower end, compared to other counties experiencing problems with opiates. He said, however, there is still a significant problem growing each year in Aiken that must be recognized.

The grant will be spread out over the state in three years time, and Aiken will certainly be an area for focused training with first-responders, Mount said.

“First responders work on the front lines to recognize and treat people suffering from potential life-threatening opioid overdoses,” said Catherine Heigel, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “The partnership with (the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services) will ensure first responders across the state have access to training and naloxone that are critical to the continued fight against opioid overdoses and deaths.”

First-responder training will focus more intensely on law enforcement in the first two years of grant funding, according to a release by the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.

In the third year, DHEC will begin to include fire departments to reach first responders after education and training materials specific to their profession are developed, and outcomes related solely to law enforcement can be evaluated, the release states.

Problem increasing statewide
“This has been a collective effort with an extremely positive outcome,” said Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson. “Any time we can bring national resources into our local communities and provide programs helpful to the citizens of this Circuit, then I believe we all benefit; and in this case, the lives of several South Carolinians have already been saved.”

In 2015, state-funded treatment agencies saw 5,370 individuals seeking treatment for an opiate problem, a more than 177 percent increase in opiate users seeking help from 2003 to 2015, Mount said.

From 2011 through 2015, South Carolinians made 17,400 visits to emergency departments with an opioid dependency diagnosis, representing a 103.57 percent increase during this period, he said.

“The problem of opioid addiction is a real one in South Carolina,” Mount said. “This grant is a step in the right direction to combat this issue and save lives.”

Copyright 2016 the Aiken Standard

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