SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – In March, South Carolina DHEC reported a 59 percent increase in opioid-involved overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020.

On Thursday, Congressman William Timmons led a roundtable discussion about the opioid epidemic. Local, state, and national leaders in the fight against the opioid epidemic met to discuss what’s being done and the road ahead.

“It’s time we start thinking about this as if these drugs were a weapon of mass destruction,” said Jim Carroll, a former director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Michael McLain, the director of community engagement at the Phoenix Center, which provides services for substance use disorders in the upstate said the opioid epidemic is an issue affecting people, families, and communities across the country.

“It’s a huge issue,” said McLain. “This past year, we served almost 1,300 people that came through our doors seeking help for substance use related to opioids.”

Carroll addressing the issue starts with preventing these drugs from entering our communities.

“What we’re experiencing is the highest number in us history of overdoses and it’s because the supply of drugs are coming into our country at an unprecedented level,” said Carroll.

He also believes education can stop young people from starting to use these drugs.

“So our kids, our people that our out there in the community, especially our young people, understand the dangers of what’s out there on the streets today,” said Carroll.

McLain said it’s an important time to come together and address the epidemic. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control reported overdose deaths nation wide topped 100,000.

“It’s critical especially with the number of overdoses. We’re at our highest level of overdoses ever in our nation, right now. Much of that is tied to heroin and fentanyl,” said McLain.

McLain said spreading awareness can be impactful and he wants people to know, there’s always help available.

“If we can prevent it, that’s great. If someone has moved into a use stage or is struggling with addiction, that they know of the resources that are there and available to help get on the road to recovery,” said McLain.

Leaders and law enforcement said an other important effort in the fight against opioids is the proper disposal of unused medication and drugs. It could keep prescription medication out of the wrong hands.

The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office is hosting pill-takeback events this month, more information is online.