County stats show fewer opioid overdoses in 2018-19

Published 12:47 pm Saturday, June 8, 2019

The nation is in the midst of an opioid crisis, Beaufort County included. But there was some good news from Beaufort County Emergency Services early this week: opioid overdoses are down in the county.

Last year, EMS departments across the county responded to a total of 62 overdoses. Twenty-four of those were opioid overdoses: Aurora EMS responded to one; Beaufort County EMS responded to one; Broad Creek EMS, four; Chocowinity EMS, 15; and Washington EMS, three, according to a presentation by Beaufort County Emergency Services Director Carnie Hedgepeth.

Compared to 2017, the decrease is staggering. That year, 167 total overdose calls were made to EMS, more than three a week for every week of the year. Statistics of how many of the 2017 overdoses were opioid-related was not readily available.

Chocowinity EMS, by far, had the most overdose calls in 2017 — at 88 more than half of the total calls. In 2018-19, Chocowinity again tops the list, responding to 15 opioid overdoses.

While the news is good, why opioid overdose calls to EMS have decreased isn’t clear cut, according to Chris Newkirk, chief of fire/emergency management for Beaufort County Emergency Services.

“In our review of those stats, we could not pinpoint a single factor as to why it’s down,” Newkirk said.

Instead, a combination of factors likely contributed to the decrease: the presence of Narcan in the home, as purchasing the drug that reverses overdoses no longer requires a prescription; law enforcement efforts to deter opioid sales; and public awareness campaigns and education about opioid abuse — all could be contributing to the decrease, according to Newkirk.

“Unfortunately, it could also be down because of the high mortality rate of users last year,” Newkirk. “But to say one is a greater cause than another would be sheer speculation. We just know the numbers are reduced.”

Efforts to reduce opioid abuse have been launched from a variety of sources, from a 2nd Judicial District Task Force to Metropolitan Community Health’s Agape Clinic receiving a grant to give law enforcement Narcan to carry in squad cars.

“A lot of different agencies made a lot of different efforts to impact the rate of overdoses in the county and it’s working,” Newkirk said. “We’re happy to see the numbers down.”