COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) – The Department of Health and Environmental Control will be sharing monthly non-fatal overdose data online publicly to transparently show drug trends and make people aware of overdose effects across the state.

Beth Bair, the director of chemistry at DHEC, says fatal overdose numbers and data are telling but non-fatal drug overdoses may also play a role in understanding and preventing the epidemic.

“This has been a labor of love for us. Getting this dashboard posted and made publicly available. We received a grant in 2019 from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to establish an overdose biosurveillance program at the public health lab. We obviously know that we have a very serious problem with overdoses in South Carolina and with drug-related overdoses,” Bair says.

Click here to visit DHEC’s Overdose Dashboard

She hopes the site is another tool in the box of professionals who work in treatment and prevention. The site breaks down how often certain drugs appear in overdoses. Samples come anonymously from partner hospitals across the state.

“In the right hands, it will definitely help people better understand that, how drugs are being used and distributed around South Carolina, because we do see some trends in the data already. And anytime you have data like this, it can be very powerful, and it can help public health professionals and medical professionals as well as policymakers better understand how these drugs are being used within our communities, identify novel drugs that are being used in our communities, and hopefully help these other groups of people to address the opioid epidemic,” Bair says.

In Berkeley County, Coroner Darnell Hartwell says he is also constantly collecting overdose data which he provides to DHEC. While his work is mostly identifying fatal overdoses after death, he says every piece of data is important when it comes to prevention.

“I think it’s a very proactive technique to have. I think the community needs to know what’s in their communities and it’s our job to make sure that the people that we serve know that information,” Hartwell says.

Hartwell works hand in hand with local law enforcement and prevention centers and champions communication and collaboration as a step towards solving drug problems. He knows it can be an uncomfortable topic for people with loved ones, but he suggests that people take a look at this tool, and be aware of their surroundings always.

“I do think 100% is a conversation that we have to have. It’s hard for me to have those conversations,” Hartwell says. “Again, last year, we had over 1,800 calls in Berkeley County. We had a significant increase across the board and deaths as well but it’s hard for me to talk about those numbers. But a big part of my job is to be proactive. And again, making sure that our constituents, our provincial partners know what we’re actually seeing, so we can put things in place.”

So far in 2024, the program has tested 945 suspected non-fatal overdose samples. The top three drugs appearing so far in positive samples are methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl in that order. Bair hopes this can be a resource for healthcare workers, prevention partners, law enforcement and policymakers.

“We’re committed to getting this information out to the public and to people who are working on the front lines who are really working hard to address this epidemic in South Carolina,” Bair says. “Because we want to improve the lives of South Carolinians that’s so important to us. So hopefully this dashboard will provide an avenue for that.”

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