COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — According to data from DHEC, suspected drug overdoses are up 49% in South Carolina compared to this time last year.

Bobby Brazell said it’s been a tough year for people in recovery like himself. The Executive Director for Midlands Recovery Center said, “There are jokes that for people in long term recovery – 2020 should count as two years sobriety instead of one.”

Brazell said the pandemic has made it tough to try to help people on the road to recovery struggling with substance use disorder. He said, “It’s just been a dark cloud over the recovery community. Everyone here has felt it.”

Feelings of isolation, financial issues and fears over COVID-19 could be worsening the opioid epidemic nationally and in South Carolina.

Access to services have been limited due to the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the CDC announced a health alert for a spike in fatal overdoses across the country. They said an increased use of illegally made fentanyl – a synthetic opioid.

Right now, DHEC does not have data on fatal overdoses for this year, but they do keep track of the number of times the overdose reversal drug Naloxone is administered.

DHEC said preliminary EMS data through their Law Enforcement Officer Naloxone (LEON) and firefighter Reducing Opioid Loss of Life (ROLL) programs report 949 Narcan administrations for suspected overdoses statewide in 2020, as of Dec. 22. This data does not include non-fatal overdoses where an individual went directly to a hospital, or fatal overdoses without EMS involvement.

South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Director Sara Goldsby said they keep a close eye on this data. “This is the main indication that we have a serious increase in the need for services for people who are misusing substances and alcohol.”

Goldsby said this year they have worked to distribute naloxone in as many communities as possible. When the pandemic started and people were staying at home and away from loved ones they braced for increase usage of alcohol and drugs among South Carolinians.

“We’re just surprised and alarmed that overdoses have climbed at the rates they have,” Goldsby said.

Goldsby said she is worried about the longterm impacts the pandemic will have. “We’ll have so many more people who have tipped over into a substance use disorder than we would have had previously.”

Goldsby said if you are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse because of the pandemic you can call the SC HOPES hotline to speak with a counselor. That number is 1-844-724-6737.