BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The opioid crisis is impacting the entire country, but the problem is much worse here in the Lowcountry.
The Berkeley County Coroner’s office is a place where, unfortunately, opioid cases often come to an end.
“We’ve seen a rise in opioids deaths throughout the county,” said Coroner George Oliver. “Predominantly in our southernmost part of Berkeley County is where we have the most deaths.”
Oliver continued, “It’s been a gradual increase and then in about 2016 we saw a pretty good jump in it.”
Just this year in Berkeley County, there are 28 opioids overdoses. 5 more suicides were caused by opioids.
33 people in Berkeley County are no longer with us since January 1st alone. The Tri-County area has 240% of the national average for opioids overdose deaths. In Charleston County, 140 people died from overdose deaths in 2018. Think about that. 140 people would fill up one of those Southwest Jets we see flying around the Lowcountry.
“We have a lot of families that are completely shocked when this happens. They weren’t aware their loved one was partaking in something like that. We have other families that did know about it and just didn’t talk about it, and we have families that pretty much spend every penny they have putting their loved ones in a treatment program.”
Some people accidentally overdose after being jailed for a while.
“They come out and use the same strength they were using when they were incarcerated, said Oliver.
But since their body is no longer used to that, it can kill them.
Dr. Elizabeth Cammer of Cammer’s Pharmacy in Hanahan has seen more and more opioids prescriptions over her 16 years in pharmacy.
“You can definitely tell people start out getting a prescription for a legitimate medical reason and then they end up getting hooked and addicted to them,” she said. “Then once they are unable to have access to the prescriptions, they will turn to the streets.”
Either because they can no longer get a medication refilled, or just due to cost.
“Usually it’s getting into heroin, just because unfortunately heroin is cheaper than prescription medicines and it’s very easy to get.”
That’s what happened to 24-year-old Tyler Wells.
“The first time I was exposed to opioids I’d been home from the military for about a month. A friend from high school offered me a Percocet and I just remember, I just remember a feeling of warmth and comfort,” he said.
It rapidly descended.
“The opioids get expensive, the pharmaceutical drugs, and that’s why most people tend to switch over to heroin because it’s a lot cheaper and that’s really deadly, it’s killing a lot of people now. I had made that switch, unfortunately.”
For him, it started in 2016.
“It’s a very dark and hopeless feeling. You can’t experience any happiness without opioids. The first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and it’s the number one goal for the day”
Fortunately, Tyler is now in treatment at Changed Lives Ministry in Moncks Corner.
“They see, especially my parents and grandparents, they see their child or grandson going through this problem and you know as much as they want to help, there’s not a lot they can do until I’m ready to get help for my opioid problem.”
Tyler says he is certain what would have been his future if he had not made a change.
“Definitely death. A Hundred percent death.”
Coroner Oliver says he does not see anything but more overdose deaths in the future, especially as the population in the Lowcountry continues to grow.