BEAUFORT, SC (WSAV) – A growing problem in the Lowcountry is leaving people dead and families mourning. Overdoses.
Last year there were 1,767 deaths in South Carolina from a drug overdose, according to DHEC.
The National Safety Council attributes more than 93,000 deaths across the county last year from a drug overdose. Countless others suffered disabling injuries and health problems.
Now some Lowcountry families which it’s personally affected are working with Beaufort County to raise awareness about this issue.
“He was smart. He was personable. He was amazing.”
He was Michael Forester. 38 years old on July 4, 2020, when he overdosed. His mother Catherine says Michael was 3 months sober at the time and had even checked in with his parole officer that morning. But the lure of drugs was too much for him.
“Shock and trauma,” said Catherine. “The shock is the disbelief. Like how can he be gone when I just talked to him the day before.”
Catherine said Michael battled alcohol addiction in his teens, later turned to drugs after being prescribed opiates, and ended up in jail. A place she thought he would be safe. But it’s the same place she says Michael met the man who gave him the drugs that killed him.
“You just don’t expect it to happen in your family,” said Catherine. “It’s anyone’s son, daughter friend, coworker mom dad. It is anyone.”
“I’ve lost 9 clients in the last 8 months to overdose and I don’t think I can handle one more,” said Ashley McElveen. “I hate getting on Facebook in the morning. because that’s usually where I find out.”
Ashley McElveen is a bail bondswoman in Beaufort. She doesn’t just get them out of jail, she helps them, follows their cases and their lives. She says too many of those lives are being cut short by overdoses.
How big of a problem is this in our county?”
“Way larger than anyone has any idea,” says McElveen.
“Drugs don’t discriminate and neither does overdose,” says Ashley. “Doesn’t matter how much money you have or your educational backgrounds, I’ve seen them from the top to the bottom.”
That’s why these women have joined forces with two other people affected by the epidemic, and Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department for International Overdose Awareness Day.
It’s called an empty shoe memorial. Tuesday, August 31 from 3 pm to 7 pm on the corner of Boundary Street and Ribaut Road Beaufort.
There will be a pair of shoes on the sidewalk representing each of the 70 or more loved ones lost to overdose. People can show up to support the awareness effort and learn more about this epidemic and how they can help.
“Unless we can find a way to help them, to help them take a different path, nothing is going to change,” says Ashley. “They end up going back to the same people places and things that got them in trouble in the first place because that’s all they know. We don’t have any resources. We do have some but we don’t have very many.”
Catherine and Ashley point out that some of these people got drugs from friends or family’s medicine cabinets. They will even go drug-seeking at open houses or wherever they can find them.
They hope events like this will educate the public about the problem and also take away the stigma connected to the problem, the epidemic that is drug overdose.
“I hope that they would see these shoes and see they represent people and that they would change their minds the next time they thought about getting high,” says Ashley.
“I want them to feel the humanness behind it,” says Catherine Forester of the shoe memorial. “It’s not just a number. They are empty shoes who belonged to somebody at some point who died of an overdose.”
Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department will also be offering a free 5-minute Narcan training Tuesday, August 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The training helps understand how to identify the signs of an overdose and help someone who may be overdosing.
Training will be curbside and only takes 5 minutes. Please call ahead to make an appointment. You don’t have to leave your car. The 5-minute training will be held curbside at the BCADAD Beaufort office, 1905 Duke Street 843-255-6013, and the BCADAD Bluffton office, 4819 Bluffton Parkway 843-255-6020.
Free “Deterra Bags” will be available too. These bags are the proper way to dispose of expired, unwanted medication.
For more information, visit www.beaufortcountysc.gov/alcohol-and-drug.