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News Releases

Drug overdose deaths in South Carolina continue alarming increase; DHEC and DAODAS share resources, help available to anyone

Feb. 10, 2023

Annual report shows South Carolina following national trends as drug overdose deaths climb again

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Today, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released its annual Drug Overdose Deaths Statistical Report for South Carolina, which provides data and information about the fatal drug overdose deaths that occurred in South Carolina in 2021. The report shows a continued significant increase in drug overdose deaths in the state over the past several years – an alarming trend that’s in line with national data as America copes with a drug overdose epidemic.

From 2020 to 2021, the total number of drug overdose deaths in South Carolina increased by more than 430 individuals, from 1,734 deaths to 2,168: an increase of more than 25%. By comparison, there were only 573 drug overdose deaths in the state in 2012. Opioids continue to be the primary cause of overdose deaths in recent years, contributing to 1,733 of the 2,168 fatal overdoses in 2021. 

“Mental health and substance use disorders are at the forefront of public health concerns around the nation, and we at DHEC – along with our many essential partners – are committed to stopping this disturbing trend in drug overdose deaths by connecting people with the help they need and deserve,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “We all have a role to play in ending the stigma surrounding substance use disorders and being a conduit for those who need help but can’t or won’t take those first steps to reach out.”

Nationally, including South Carolina, the synthetic opioid fentanyl is largely responsible for the increase in overdose deaths. From 2020 to 2021, drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased more than 35% in South Carolina, from 1,100 to 1,494 deaths. Fentanyl was involved in more than two-thirds of all opioid-involved overdose deaths in the state in 2021. 

“Other drugs are being laced with fentanyl – without the user’s knowledge – which can cause a fatal overdose even in a small quantity,” said Sara Goldsby, Director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS). “If there is a possibility of coming into contact with an unsafe drug, it’s important to have naloxone on hand in case of an overdose.”

Naloxone, when administered in time, can reverse the effects of overdose from prescription opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, and others) and heroin. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and presents no harm when administered to someone not experiencing an opioid overdose. It also has no psychoactive effects.

Naloxone is available through pharmacies without a prescription. Medicaid and many insurance plans also cover the cost. A number of DHEC health departments and community-level organizations make naloxone freely available, and a searchable map of these Community Distributors is available at To check the availability of naloxone at a DHEC health department, find contact information for calling ahead at

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that 75% of fatal drug overdoses in the nation involved opioids, and that drug overdose deaths accelerated during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic as people likely turned to drugs and other substances to cope with feelings of stress, fear and worry.

DHEC and DAODAS remind all South Carolinians that resources are available for anyone experiencing substance use issues.  

DAODAS provides helpful information about treatment options and other resources and can be reached by calling the agency at 803-896-5555 or sending a message online at DAODAS also provides a map and contact information for treatment providers around the state for those wishing to contact a treatment facility directly. 


  • The SC Mobile Crisis response program is operated by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SCDMH) and can assist anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, 24-hours-a-day/seven days a week, every day of the year. Trained staff can assist over the phone or in-person when appropriate. Call the SC Mobile Crisis line at 833-364-2274 or email
  • SCDMH’s Online Mental Health Screener is a safe, easy, and free service that allows users to anonymously take a Self-Check Questionnaire and connect with a professional counselor who can offer guidance, support, and resources to help connect them with mental health and addiction services. The screener is found at
  • Anyone seeking help for mental illness, a substance use disorder – or both – can reach out to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline — a free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service for individuals and families (in English/Spanish) — at 1-800-662-HELP.

The Just Plain Killers dashboard maintained by DAODAS is in the process of being updated to reflect the 2021 data. The dashboard provides county-level breakdowns of drug overdose deaths and prescription drug dispersion, among other drug-related information. Just Plain Killers is an education initiative of DAODAS and the state’s Opioid Emergency Response Team (OERT), which is a collaboration between DAODAS, DHEC, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and others. 

The data DHEC collects for the annual Drug Overdose Deaths Statistical Report for South Carolina is derived from death certificates registered with DHEC’s Office of Vital Statistics and represents the deaths of individuals that occurred within the state, regardless of whether the individuals were South Carolina residents.

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