CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – A war on drugs is something Lowcountry law enforcement officers say is a top priority across the region and beyond. Overdoses from drugs involving heroin, cocaine, ice and more are all on the rise because of a lethal substance that’s being mixed into them.
Law enforcement says fentanyl has taken over the streets the last two years causing overdoses and fatalities to rise dramatically. It’s a problem they say they’re working hard to eradicate on a daily basis. The problem is so dire right now, the North Charleston Police Department says they’re experiencing one to two overdoses a day.
“They run across it every day on calls for service finding people near death having to use Narcan to revive them,” said Lieutenant Jason Roy with the North Charleston Police Department.
It’s a deadly problem police say is becoming more common with drugs like heroin, cocaine and others being cut with a deadly substance.
“It’s a huge impact on the community I mean, we’re having anywhere from one to two overdoses a day,” said Lt. Roy.
“A war on drugs, yeah I mean it’s dangerous out there to be purchasing any type of Ilicit substance on the streets,” said Lieutenant Michael Thomas with the City of Charleston Police Department.
Lieutenant Roy says they’ve had a higher number of overdose deaths so far this year in the City of North Charleston surpassing last year’s total.
“A lot of them are using Narcan and surviving it but unfortunately like last year we pulled the numbers, last year we had 33 overdose deaths,” says Lieutenant Roy. “This year we have two months remaining in the year and we’re already up to 36.”
The epidemic stretched across the region. An undercover drug detective with the Charleston Police Department asked for his identity to be concealed. Lieutenant Thomas says the problem has become more apparent.
“From my perspective though, the most significant challenge is fentanyl,” says Lieutenant Thomas.
Doctors call it a lethal substance and say more often than not, those who are purchasing drugs have no way to tell it’s fentanyl.
“It’s deadly, I mean we’re seeing consequences of it and a lot of people we don’t even see in the hospital because they already overdose and we couldn’t make it to save them,” says Dr. Matthew Kwon, an Emergency Physician with Roper St. Francis.
Dr. Kwon says the substance is so lethal, all it takes is fentanyl touching your skin to prove fatal.
“Traditionally we’d say that’s around 50 to 100 times more potent than your usual heroin or morphine or any Percocet’s or things you’d get that’s over the counter,” says Kwon.
Both doctors and law enforcement say a bulk of those overdosing are between the ages of 25 and 44 but can range all the way to people in their 70s. Dr. Kwon says Narcan can be used to reverse the effects but often patients don’t get it quick enough.
“We don’t know when it’s laced and when it is it’s so potent that people that don’t know that they’re having it and overdosing and not breathing and have fatal consequences,” says Dr. Kwon.
In the City of Charleston, officials say they’ve had 148 overdoses so far this year. In 2020 there were 188 overdoses between January and November. The city had 33 fatalities, 19 of those involved at least some fentanyl and 7 deaths were overdoses on pure fentanyl.
“There’s always been a war on drugs, now this new drug fentanyl that’s getting cut – we’ve had overdoses of people using cocaine that fentanyl’s in that shouldn’t be in and same thing with ice and then obviously the heroin,” said Lt. Roy.
Law enforcement and doctors say changing the stigma on substance abuse while tracking down drugs is the best way to reverse the trend.
“We work on targeting areas where the drug problem is and try to eradicate it and make arrests or get people into rehab,” says Roy.
“It’s a problem law enforcement say they’ve been fighting for years. Now with the trend on the rise, the goal to clean up the streets and keep people alive is top of mind.
“This is an on-going battle,” says Lieutenant Roy. “You just hope for the best.”
Law enforcement says if you see drug-related activity happening to report it to law enforcement. You can report activity anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry at 843-554-1111.