What is an opioid?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include licit prescription pain relievers (like vicodin, oxycodone, and fentanyl) and the illicit drug heroin.


What is opioid misuse or abuse?

Taking a prescription opioid medication in a way that is different from what the doctor prescribed is often referred to as prescription drug misuse or abuse. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides helpful information regarding prescription opioid abuse terminology and epidemiology. (click here)


What is opioid use disorder, or OUD?

Opioid use disorder may develop after a period of time abusing opioids (whether prescribed, illicit, or both). Diagnostic criteria for opioid use disorder consists of a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period of time:

  • Opioids are often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of opioids
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use opioids
  • Recurrent opioid use resulting a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
  • Continued use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use
  • Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically hazardous
  • Continued opioid use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance
  • Tolerance, as defined by: (a) a need for markedly increased amounts of opioids to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or, (b) a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of an opioid (* This criterion is not considered to be met for those taking opioids solely under appropriate medical supervision)
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by: (a) the characteristic opioid withdrawal syndrome; or, (b) opioids are taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

How many people have an opioid use disorder?

In 2015, an estimated 91.8 million American adults used prescription opioids. An estimated 11.5 million people misused these medications. Nearly 1 in 100 U.S. civilian, non-institutionalized adults (0.8%; 1.9 million) reported a prescription opioid use disorder. (1)


In 2015, an estimated 5.1 million people (1.9 percent of people aged 12 or older) had used heroin at some point in their lives, with an estimated 1 in 1000 U.S. adults reporting heroin use in the past month. (2)


What is the scope of the opioid epidemic in South Carolina?

The South Carolina DHEC site provides helpful, updated statistics on the impact of opioid abuse and overdose on South Carolina. For example:

  • In 2016, 550 deaths occurred in South Carolina from a drug overdose with prescription opioid drugs listed on the death certificate, up 7% from 512 in 2015 and up 18% from 464 in 2014.
  • South Carolina county level death data from 2014 and 2015 is available here.
  • Fatal overdoses involving heroin increased by 14% from 2015 to 2016. By comparison, fatal overdoses involving heroin increased by 67% from 2014 to 2015.
  • In 2015, the number of deaths from heroin and opioid overdoses in South Carolina surpassed the number of homicides.
  • You can find more county-by-county data regarding the impact of opioid abuse across South Carolina at the Just Plain Killers website, by clicking here.

A map for 2016 Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths by County of Occurrence is presented below.



Where can I learn more about treatment and recovery resources available in South Carolina?

The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services has developed a web-based resource for individuals and families in South Carolina who want to learn more about opioid abuse and how to find effective treatment services. You can visit the Just Plain Killers site by clicking here.


Do you have any downloadable materials available that summarize this information?  

The SC MAT ACCESS team has assembled a brief slide set regarding the scope of the opioid epidemic nationally and in South Carolina. It is available for download by clicking the button below. Please feel free to use this material with credit for slide development given to the SC MAT ACCESS initiative.