COLUMBIA, S.C. — Citing a recent series of drug overdoses involving potent counterfeit drugs in the Upstate region, the South Carolina Departments of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and Alcohol and Other Drug Abuses Services (DAODAS) warn residents against purchasing medication online or from any source not requiring a valid prescription.
The overdoses reported involved counterfeit benzodiazepines -- a type of medication approved for use in treating anxiety, insomnia, seizure, and acute alcohol withdrawal. Common names include Xanax and Valium.
A pill press used to make counterfeit Xanax was seized in Greer, SC, by law enforcement. The confiscated drugs contained clonazolam, a drug so potent that doses higher than 0.5 mg can cause benzodiazepine overdose in some individuals.
Emma Kennedy, director of DHEC's Division of Injury and Substance Abuse Prevention, warns, "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. 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."
According to the agency, 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.
DAODAS and DHEC list these additional resources for those struggling with substance abuse:
- 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.