"In South Carolina alone, 1,734 people died from drug related overdose in 2020."
JOSH WAS FINALLY “DONE, finished with drugs.” This was a huge relief for his father, Eric Bedingfield, the then-State Representative from Greenville County. Josh had struggled with drugs growing up, but his life was beginning to turn around.
Traveling with his father to the State House week after week, Josh became a mainstay among the busyness of the chamber – working his addiction recovery plan.
After two years of sobriety, he was getting on his feet. A new father with two little girls, the road of opportunity was wide and long ahead of him. He was part of a big rig driving team, hauling tractor trailers up and down the interstate… until one fateful day in March of 2016.
Returning from a haul to the Northeast, he and his driving partner split up for the trip to bring a second truck back to the Upstate of South Carolina. The 25-year-old was alone on the long haul, and in that solitude, the all-too-familiar echo of addiction called.
“My oldest son had evidently purchased what he thought was heroine,” Bedingfield tells. Shortly after he arrived home, he took the heroine and died almost instantly. “Unfortunately, it was not heroine,” Bedingfield says. “It was fentanyl” –– a drug fifty times stronger than heroine.
And with that – grief and loss overwhelming – Josh Bedingfield became one of South Carolina’s 616 drug related deaths of 2016.
Since that fateful day in March, though, the impact of drug-related deaths has cast even longer and darker shadows. In the twelve months from April 2019 – April 2020, America saw 100,000 drug-related deaths – the first time in history the death toll had crossed six figures. In fact, in South Carolina alone, 1,734 people died from drug-related overdose in 2020 – a 300% increase from just eight years prior.
“This is affecting all of America, all of South Carolina,” Bedingfield says.
In fact, a sheriff in one of South Carolina’s larger counties told a group of community leaders in the Pee Dee, “We’re picking up two to three bodies a week in our county. The last one we picked up had 2.5 liters of fentanyl beside it. That’s enough fentanyl to kill everyone in our county… twice.”
But it’s not “street drugs” that are leading to this ever increasing epidemic in our culture. It’s prescription opioids.
“Right now [protocol] is pills after surgery,” says Dr. Heather Hinshelwood of Fraum Center for Restorative Health on Hilton Head Island. “Pills are going to come with that – and it’s just a whole downward spiral from there.”
“The picture you have in your mind of a drunk or drug addict is false,” Bedingfield says. “It could be the person you are talking to at the counter where you’re going to eat. It could be the gentleman across from you at the table in a business meeting or a house closing.”
The adage in addiction recovery says it all: One is not enough, but a thousand is too much.
Zach Siebert of West Columbia agrees. He started down a road of opioid addiction after dental surgery years ago. “Five milligrams today does its job. And tomorrow, you need ten milligrams to do the same thing.”
“We’ve got the find some different ways to offer people relief,” Hinshelwood adds.
And she is right, because substance use disorder is not only leading to an increased drug-related deaths, but it is completely debilitating individuals, families, and communities.
Counselors and therapists across the country echo one simple truth about addiction: “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is indicative of the problem.” Underlying substance use disorder is far too often a spiritual disorder, and, not to sound pedantic, the solution can only be found in Christ.
The Church must take its role as the hands and feet of Jesus into the circumstances and situations and communities He’s called us to, if we are to truly impact lives.
To learn more about The Opioid Crisis and how you can bring real change to your community, visit www.PalmettoFamily.org/opioidcrisis.