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Chester County wants to have a word about its overdose problems

The Chester County Opioid Summit is an attempt to bring the realities of opioid addictions to light, and offer some hope for the future.
The Chester County Opioid Summit is an attempt to bring the realities of opioid addictions to light, and offer some hope for the future.

Since February, Chester County has recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 overdoses. Twelve of those were fatal, according to the county Coroner’s Office.

All the fatalities involved fentanyl.

Chester is hardly a standout. In fact, its numbers are stunningly average in South Carolina. And when you look at the number of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines (anxiety meds) and opioids (pain meds) in Chester, or in South Carolina in general, they are going down.

But Melody Reid, director of prevention services at the Hazel Pittman Center, Chester’s main substance abuse treatment agency, still sees 12,000 prescriptions written for those two types of drugs in 2021; she still sees the ripples of the Covid pandemic that increased the amount of drugs abused by county residents; and she still sees the echoes of an epidemic triggered a decade ago by massive overprescription of opioid pills that created a demand for which the supply is no longer so available.

Enter fentanyl, an extremely potent and extremely addictive synthetic opioid that’s found its way into street drugs passed off as real prescription pills. It’s also extremely toxic even in small amounts, which has led to its prevalence in autopsies since prescription pills got harder to come by.

Chester’s opioid problem is that of every county in South Carolina. It’s just that Chester is talking about it Thursday night.

The third annual Chester County Opioid Summit is set for Thursday, Sept. 28, at 6 p.m., at the Gateway Conference Center in Richburg. Free to attend, the event features trends, insights, and a reality check of what’s happening on (and off) the streets of Chester.

“We're wanting to focus on opioid use, misuse, and dependence happening in Chester County,” Reid says. “We'll discuss how health professionals, individuals in recovery, government officials, community partners, and law enforcement can help prevent opioid abuse.”

Speakers will also share personal stories of loved ones lost to addiction, without the judgement. Reid says that maybe the most important thing to come from this summit is the hope to remind people that those with addictions are victims of an illness.

“Addiction is a disease,” she says. “Just like someone who has diabetes.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.