Study results released as Lowcountry battles opioid epidemic

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - The number of young people dying from prescription drug overdoses has turned the opioid epidemic into a public health crisis.

A forum was held Monday night in the Lowcountry to open more eyes to the problem and attempt to get ahead of the crisis. It's a national problem, but it trickles down to smaller communities just like Bluffton and Hilton Head. Some of the statistics kids see in the Lowcountry every day is shocking.

"We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it's not here and it's not in our community," said Beaufort County Coroner, Ed Allen.

Allen is tired of burying kids from overdosing on drugs.

The House of Representatives gave the Opioid Epidemic Committee eight months to complete a study. Those staggering results were presented at the forum, and the committee says everyone is involved in this drug trend in one way or another.

"Instead of treating it as an illness, we treat it as some sort of second-class problem, and it's not at all. It has affected everyone in this room, I would imagine, at some point in time whether you knew it or not."

Their study found that opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016. That's more than any other year on record. 616 of those deaths were in South Carolina alone. The first Fentanyl death was in Beaufort County. Fentanyl is a painkiller 35 times stronger than heroin.

Doctors who spoke at the forum say the age range for most affected are teenagers who are proven to undergo the most amount of stress. Adelynn Helms says she witnesses this drug-abuse problem at Bluffton High every day.

"How are they going to spend their Friday night? You know, they're going to go and maybe smoke. Maybe they want to go to a party. Maybe they want to drink. Maybe they're going to drive afterward," said Helms, President of Teens for Health/Bluffton High.

Students who spoke at the forum have rallied behind Helms to help educate and protect their peers.

"You know their friend group who usually smoke pot or drink a lot of alcohol, you know, they don't talk about that," Helms said. "So when someone like me, who is new and refreshing comes in, that really opens a door for them to hear about another side of the topic."

The committee also found these abusers are not prescribed these drugs. Over half of Beaufort abusing drugs are getting pills from the street or a relative or friend.

"I bet many of us have unused prescriptions sitting in drawers in our homes."

Their advice to the community: clean out those drawers, stay educated about the opioid epidemic, and talk with - not at - your children about why abusing drugs can be deadly.

The committee and Bluffton High School alike are looking forward to working together to improve this problem in the Lowcountry.

Click here for more statistics and tips for sitting down with your child to discuss this epidemic.

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