News 2 I-Team: Opioid and heroin use spike in Lowcountry

Deaths from drug overdose are up among both men and women, all races, and adults of nearly all ages.  More than three out of five drug overdose deaths involve a drug that be legally obtained, according to the CDC.

Lisa Mitchell is the co-chairman of Wake Up Carolina.  The group is a DEA initiative that started in September.   She joined the board after a close family friend lost her son to a drug overdose.  She now regularly talks with her kids about drugs and how easily accessible they are in her Mt. Pleasant community.

One way teens get theirs hands on drugs is through what’s called “bowl parties”  or “pharm parties”.

“Everyone steals medicine out of their parents’ cabinet.  They drop them in a bowl. As the night progresses they all take a pill,” Mitchell explained.

DEA Agent in Charge of the Charleston Region, Jason Sandoval, says 40 percent of teens today admit to sneaking pills from a parent’s medicine cabinet.

“The party these kids are getting with these drugs isn't the party of 20 or 30 years ago,” he told the News 2 I-Team. “The drugs are real, and they can be deadly.”

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 states saw increases in overdose deaths in the last year from the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers, the class of drugs known as opioids.

As for heroin deaths, 11 states had increases.  South Carolina saw the biggest spike at 57.1 percent.

Wake Up Carolina and the DEA want to see skyrocketing death rates decrease.    The DEA along with local law enforcement host two drug take backs every year in the Lowcountry.

Wake Up board members want to see local pharmacies and drop off sites take back pills year-long.

“If you were prescribed 30 pills and you only used three, those other 27 pills are a ticking time bomb for someone looking to party,” Agent Sandoval explained.

The organizations are also sharing their message at schools, churches, and with medical and pharmacy students. They hope the next generation of doctors won’t prescribe painkillers known as opioids as frequently as they are prescribed now.

Mitchell hopes by opening up the dialogue in the public forum, more parents will start having the conversation with their kids at home before it's too late.


“No one wakes up one day and says I want to ruin my life by taking prescription drugs or getting a DUI.”

Drug overdose deaths outpaced both gun deaths and car wreck deaths, according to the most recent data from the CDC.

Sam Wells has made recovery her life work, after making her own recovery.

“People are dying from this and recovery is possible, Wells explained.

She slipped into addiction in her early 20's, but since getting better, she opened her own intervention practice to help families navigate toward sobriety.

She's working with the DEA and the non-profit Wake Up Carolina to spread awareness about addition and spread a message of hope for those struggling.

In 2016 Charleston County reported the heroin/opioid overdose death rate sat 40 percent above the national average.

In Dorchester County, Leah Reason and the Alcohol and Drug Commission received a $110,000 federal grant to implement educational programs in schools and to help law enforcement spot drugs on the street during the next five years.

“No one wakes up one day and says I want to ruin my life by taking prescription drugs or getting a DUI,” Reason said.


Signs there could be a problem can include out place household items like:

  • spoons in a bedroom, used for melting drugs
  • shoelaces, used as a tourniquet for intravenous heroin injection
  • straws, used for snorting drugs

Doctor Julie Lawrence, a mother of three, says talking with her kids about drug abuse is a top priority.  She says drugs, even those written via prescription, can hijack a person's survival circuitry.  She says it makes the user believe they need the drug to survive.

“Archaeologically it can be triggered by a first dose or by a 200th dose,” the pharmacist explained to the I-Team.

Nationwide, abuse of drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin killed 17,536 last year.

Lawmakers file 10 bills to curb problem

Four Republican state representatives filed 10 bills in the South Carolina House Wednesday aimed at curbing the state’s problem with heroin and prescription painkillers.

"This is actually the first piece,” said Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville. “We're going to follow-up with a set of bills that actually addresses kind of the law enforcement/ legal side of the equation, if you will. These bills are mostly geared toward the prescription side of things.”

The other sponsors are Rep. Eric Bedingfield of Greenville, Rep. Russell Fry of Myrtle Beach, and Rep. Chip Huggins of Chapin.

One of the 10 bills they filed is a Good Samaritan law that would give limited immunity from prosecution for other drug users who call for help when someone overdoses. South Carolina is the only state that doesn’t have such a law. Rep. Bedingfield says, "In the panic that's created in that moment from the other users, they don't know if they just all bought bad drugs or can't wake the guy up. Everybody gets scared and they run away, and the individual's left to make it or die, in a lot of cases."

Other bills they filed:

--Mandatory use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. It requires that, before prescribing, a doctor must first check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database that tracks the prescribing of controlled substances.

--Mandatory higher education requirements for health care workers. Colleges that offer degrees in health care professions that have schedule II, III, or IV prescriptive authority must require coursework on the prescription and monitoring of those controlled substances.

--Take-back programs. Allow pharmacies and others to register as collectors to receive controlled substances as part of take-back events, as a way for people to safely dispose of unused painkillers.

--Prescription report cards. Requires DHEC to provide prescription report cards to doctors who use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The report cards provide data on the practitioner’s prescribing practices.

--Mandatory reporting of fetal exposure to alcohol or controlled substances. Requires medical professionals to report to DSS any child diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or who is affected by non-prescription controlled substances.

--High school health curriculum. Requires high school students to get instruction on prescription drug abuse as part of their health education.

--Parental consent when prescribing to minors. Requires parental consent before prescribing opioids to minors.

--Counterfeit-resistant prescription blank. Requires DHEC to develop a counterfeit-resistant prescription blank that doctors would have to use for prescribing controlled substances.

Dr. Lawrence warns other parents to know their teen's friend groups and get to know kids' parents.

The DEA also recommends parents be the one to dispense pills to children, if they must take medication daily. Agent Sandoval also recommends keeping count of the pills.

Sue King, Clinical Instructor at MUSC Child and Adolescent Outpatient Services, tells the I-Team parents of even the youngest children can prepare them for the temptation at a young age.

  • Allow children to make choices and deal with the consequences
  • Open the conversation with kids and include talking about a family history of drug use
  • Outline clear family expectations on a variety of topics
  • Engage in open dialogue with other parents
  • Get your child help fast if there appears to be a problem

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