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South Carolina City Works to Map Drug Overdose Hot Spots

The Aiken Center is partnering with local law enforcement agencies to help combat drug misuse issues in Aiken County, S.C., primarily by using new mapping technology to identify overdose hot spots.

(TNS) — The Aiken Center is partnering with local law enforcement agencies to combat drug misuse in Aiken County by using new mapping technology to identify overdose hotspots.

As of Nov. 12, South Carolina has had 8,357 fatal and nonfatal suspected overdoses so far this calendar year, with Aiken County accounting for 358 of the total overdoses, according to the Aiken Center.

However, Aiken County is utilizing a new, innovative platform to help analyze and address the issue.

The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) is a program designed to help address the nationwide drug crisis.

In 2019, the South Carolina Attorney General's Office was given a demonstration of the mapping application and released an opinion in March 2019 in support of ODMAP, according to documents obtained from the Office of the Governor. The South Carolina Governor's Office also stated the application does not violate HIPPA regulations.

Launched by the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in 2017, the program serves as a collaborative, centralized platform for agencies to track and respond to drug crises.

"By combining the data in ODMAP with collaborative partnerships which span different agencies, localities can develop and deploy a real-time plan to reduce both fatal and non-fatal overdoses," according to the ODMAP website. "In a proactive effort of public health and safety preparedness, agencies can establish spike alerts for nearby jurisdictions which can serve as an early warning feature for when a spike may be entering their communities."

The Aiken Center said there was a recent spike in Charleston that was identified through ODMAP, and agencies like the Aiken Center were able to take action.

"They realized there was a cluster of overdoses happening around a hotel in a certain neighborhood," said Margaret Key, executive director of the Aiken Center. "It could have been that fentanyl was laced in some pills that people were experimenting with, or in heroin, but they went and met with that hotel manager and they got out — did a lot of education, distributed Narcan and tried to get the word out that there's help."

Utilizing ODMAP in Aiken County

The Aiken Center said the heat map of Aiken County drug overdoses looks like the shape of a snake, with the head sitting at greater North Augusta and the body of the snake winding its way through Midland Valley, leading to another bulge in Aiken; other overdoses are scattered across the rural parts of the county.

ODMAP data is entered by local law enforcement agencies in near real time. Participating agencies in Aiken County include the Aiken Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Services, the Aiken County Coroner's Office, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, the Salley Police Department and the Wagener Police Department, according to the ODMAP website.

The Aiken County Coroner's Office said it adds information to the platform whenever an overdose fatality has occurred.

"The Coroner's Office partnership with the Aiken Center provides information regarding the total number of overdose fatalities, type of drug(s), and to assist with programs that are aimed at drug abuse, addiction and prevention," said Aiken County Coroner Darryl Ables.

Data entered includes the approximate location of the overdose, the date and time of the overdose, whether the overdose was fatal or nonfatal and medication administered.

ODMAP data is "controlled unclassified information," according to the ODMAP website, meaning the information can only be released to authorized personnel. For confidentiality reasons, the public cannot view the data.

"Recipients of this information must have a need and right to know the information in the performance of their criminal justice and public health functions," according to the ODMAP website.

The Aiken Center used ODMAP to identify a hotspot in North Augusta and is hoping to open a new location in that area to help curb drug misuse on western side of Aiken County.

"It's just going to be a safe place that people can go to get peer support," Key said. "[Peer support leaders] will also be able to plug people into other resources that they might need. We'll work to get them on the path that fits right for them, and what will work for them in the long term."

The Aiken Center said it is also hoping to expand partnerships on ODMAP and create a new program.

"We're ready to partner with medical [institutions], public schools, the courts, and other potential partners in Aiken County," Key said.

The new program the Aiken Center is proposing, the Overdose Fatalities Review Team, would help Aiken County officials learn more about the nature of Aiken County overdoses.

"So you've got accidental overdoses that were nonfatal, fatal overdoses, and then there's another category for suicides," Key said. "If we're able to create this Overdose Fatalities Review Team, we will also be able to review and learn from the suicides. Of the Aiken County suicides, a significant percentage are going to show in the toxicology report that drugs were in their system. So we've got to learn more about suicide attempts connected to drugs; the more we can learn from them, the better we're going to keep people from getting in those situations."

'It's hurting all of us'

Key said drug misuse issues in Aiken County are impacting the entire community, not just those that are using; repressing substance abuse is integral to a strong, successful community.

"The truth is that this is expensive," she said. " The Aiken County Council just increased the number of sheriff's deputies, and they're out there administering Narcan to people who are overdosing over and over. We need to try to quantify the economic impact on those of us who pay public service bills, because this is hurting all of us, and it's hurting our workforce development."

© 2021 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.