MUSC doctor, coroner say heroin overdoses a constant problem in Charleston County

MUSC doctor, coroner say heroin overdoses a constant problem in Charleston County

In the Lowcountry, statistics on the usage of opioid drugs exceed the national average. At MUSC, an emergency room doctor treats heroin cases on a weekly basis.

Not a day goes by without someone being brought to the emergency room at Medical University Hospital because of an opiate or heroin overdose. Ad doctors try to get these patients the help they need, coroners across the Lowcountry say they're responding to more and more heroin overdose deaths.

"Every day in the emergency department we're dealing with some consequence of opiate or heroin overdose," said Dr. Ryan Barnes.

Barnes says it's a growing trend in the MUSC emergency room as the national heroin epidemic hits home.

"You can get a batch of this heroin that is extremely lethal, has a potential to cause respiratory depression, basically stop breathing and can kill patients so that can be a real challenge," Barnes said.

But it's not just heroin that's sending at least one person to the hospital every day.

"An equal challenge for us is prescription painkillers, an addiction related to that," he said.

It's a growing trend coroners have noticed as well.

"We used to only rarely see heroin deaths and now it's a very common occurrence in Charleston County, as it is across the state and across the nation at a time like we've never seen before," said Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten.

Officials say the numbers are alarming.

"Our tri-county area is seeing numbers that are in excess of what's going on nationally. So that has raised people's attention to the issue, and wondered what the precursors to all of this are," Wooten said.

The Berkeley County coroner says heroin addiction is a major concern for his office as well.

But it's a trend that's been on the rise over the past few years. Last year, Dorchester County was almost 200 percent above the national average. Charleston County is 34 percent above the national average.

"Every day it seems I get a toxicology report that implicates heroin as the cause of death," Wooten said.

It's a problem doctors are trying to prevent, but they say more community resources are needed to help people fight the addiction.

"There simply aren't enough community resources for these folks. We try our best to connect them with those resources but it presents a real challenge for us," said DEA agent Jason Sandoval.

Sandoval spends a lot of his time focused on the heroin epidemic.

For more information on heroin and opioid abuse, see the special section on the ABC News 4 website, "Hooked on Heroin."

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