Coroner records increase in Sumter opioid overdoses

BY ADRIENNE SARVIS
adrienne@theitem.com
Posted 1/28/18

In his annual address to Sumter County Council on Tuesday, county coroner Robbie Baker gave a report on the deaths he and his staff have investigated, including six confirmed opioid overdoses.

The amount of opioid deaths in Sumter County are …

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Coroner records increase in Sumter opioid overdoses

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In his annual address to Sumter County Council on Tuesday, county coroner Robbie Baker gave a report on the deaths he and his staff have investigated, including six confirmed opioid overdoses.

The amount of opioid deaths in Sumter County are increasing, Baker said.

But what the public does not see, he said, is the number of people who repeatedly overdose after they are resuscitated.

It's sad to look at the same people overdose over and over again, Baker said.

"That's not a mistake," he said, "that's a habit."

There should be a policy that compels opioid addicts to undergo treatment after they have been resuscitated such as the treatment opportunities for who abuse alcohol, Baker said.

He said there should also be a penalty for those who do not follow the treatment.

"This is not something the coroner can do," Baker said, "because I deal with the dead, not people who are living."

Though he has no control over legislation, Baker does what he can to keep potential hazards out of the wrong hands.

Every week, the coroner's office delivers a standard size trash bag full of various medications - collected from scenes - to Sumter County Sheriff's Office where they are later picked up and disposed of by the Drug Enforcement Administration office.

In an attempt to get ahead of the opioid epidemic that is increasing nationwide, Sumter's first-responder agencies started carrying Narcan - a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose - and educating the public about the growing issue.

About 80 percent of the sheriff's office is equipped with Narcan since training started in August, said Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis.

In fact, Narcan was used twice during the last three months to prevent the deaths of two heroin users, he said. One of those cases also resulted in the apprehension of a heroin seller, he said.

Education and enforcement, he said, are the top proactive steps to getting ahead of the opioid problem before it gets worse, like in other areas of the state and country.

Dennis said he has met with Sumter County EMS Director Bobby Hingst to discuss starting a task force to educate the public about the dangers of opioids and heroin.

Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark III said police officers have not had to use their supply of Narcan because Sumter County EMS usually arrives on scene before or at the same time as officers.

The police department started training and equipping its officers with Narcan in 2016.

In a previous interview published in July 2017, Sumter County EMS Director Hingst said his department - which has carried Narcan for years - has responded to an increase of opioid related calls since 2015.

Many of the people who overdose on heroin or opioid medications are teenagers and people in their late 20s, he said.

He said the majority of opioid calls involve the use of heroin which is commonly mixed with Fentanyl, an opioid that is sometimes mixed with other medications for anesthesia.

Responding to an overdose is very time sensitive, Hingst said, and it could take between 5 and 10 minutes to reverse the effects of the overdose.

Like the coroner, the EMS director also commented that the next step after treating an overdose is to introduce drug users to rehabilitation programs in an effort to prevent more deaths.