DHEC, DAODAS Warn against Drugs Purchased Online without Prescriptions
Counterfeit drugs increase risk of overdose and are often dangerous
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Following a recent series of drug overdoses involving potent counterfeit benzodiazepines in the upstate region, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) are continuing to emphasize that any medication purchased online or from any source not requiring a valid prescription poses a significant health risk.
Benzodiazepines are a type of medication approved for use in treating anxiety, insomnia, seizure, and acute alcohol withdrawal. Familiar names include Valium and Xanax.
Law enforcement in Greer, S.C. recently seized a pill press that was likely used to produce large quantities of pills marketed as Xanax and contained the potent substance clonazolam. Multiple overdoses in the upstate region have been connected to this substance, and drugs from the press were also sold nationwide through online means.
“Purchasing drugs online without a prescription can be very dangerous because they may be counterfeit, which means they were created in an uncontrolled environment and may also contain other harmful ingredients,” said Emma Kennedy, director of DHEC's Division of Injury and Substance Abuse Prevention. “If counterfeit pills are laced with fentanyl, as they often are, they can be particularly deadly. Now is the time to have conversations with loved ones and check-in with your junior high, high school and college-aged children to remind them of these dangers."
Overdose deaths that involve co-use of benzodiazepines and opioids have risen nationally over recent years. Suspected opioid overdoses, including among people with prescribed benzodiazepines, were around 40-50 percent higher in South Carolina in 2020 than in 2019. A health advisory issued in December, based on provisional 2020 information recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also cites synthetic opioids as the primary driver of increased opioid overdoses since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Combined use of even a legitimate, prescribed benzodiazepine with opioids can be particularly unsafe because both types of drugs sedate a person and suppress breathing. People should always follow dosage instructions for prescription medications carefully and not combine them with alcohol and/or illicit substances. Although Narcan cannot reverse the effects of a potent benzodiazepine, it can still potentially prevent overdose death in situations where opioids and benzodiazepines are used together.
“Statistics show that more than 50 percent of misused opioids are procured from friends and family, so unused prescription drugs should be disposed of to remove the risk of misuse,” said Michelle Nienhius, Manager of Prevention and Intervention Services for DAODAS. “Medication disposal sites are available year-round, and South Carolinians can find a convenient location at justplainkillers.com/drug-safety.”
• DEA “Get Smart About Drugs” resource for parents and family members: what you should know and how to protect your kids from online drug buying
• For those experiencing substance use issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a 24/7 support line available at 1-844-SC-HOPES.
• For information on opioid overdose prevention, the opioid antidote Naloxone, finding a recovery provider, pain management and overdose data, visit www.justplainkillers.com
• Additional information about DHEC opioid prevention programs for families and community organizations is available at www.scdhec.gov/opioid-epidemic.