BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – Battling addiction and abuse together is the goal of a new collaboration between the state of South Carolina and its three research universities.

Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) Director Sara Goldsby on Thursday announced the South Carolina Center of Excellence in Addiction.

It brings together DAODAS, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina.

“Gov. McMaster frequently asks us to act boldly and to communicate, coordinate and collaborate in our work. By doing just that, and by leveraging the expertise from our state agencies and research universities, we have the unique asset of centralized support for addiction efforts statewide,” said Sara Goldsby, director of the state’s Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS).

“Although the Center of Excellence has just been established, there is unlimited potential for it to advance our work on addiction for many years to come,” Goldsby added.

The group will research addiction, the people who get hooked, how to stop the problem before it starts and how to treat those who are addicted before it gets worse — or before it becomes a tragedy.

“This effort is aimed at lowering mortality and improving outcomes for people who need services and receive services, offering support to everyone doing that work on the front lines every day,” said Goldsby.

It’s an effort that allows the state to team up with research universities experts to find new ways or better ways to fight the addiction problem.

“By centralizing the efforts of our immensely talented state agencies and universities, the S.C. Center of Excellence in Addiction will help us identify and treat South Carolinians more effectively and ensure that resources are being utilized in the most efficient ways possible,” said McMaster.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for our state’s government and universities to join forces to address one of the most profound public health challenges of our time,” said Dr. Christina Andrews of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. “We are honored to be a part of this important effort to improve access to high-quality addiction treatment and prevention services throughout the state.”

“I think when we look at the data and understand our population better and what the needs are we will be able to fill some gaps and make it accessible and make best practices more available for folks who need services,” said Goldsby.

She said the center will start with significant data analysis.

“That will create a feedback loop into what we will also offer educational opportunities and technical assistance to folks across the state who are implementing prevention, intervention, and treatment and recovery services for addiction across the board,” Goldsby explained.

Specific quality-focused support and clinical consultation will be available to service providers and local colleagues, as well as other entities engaging in prevention, intervention, treatment and/or recovery efforts.

“The opioid addiction problem in South Carolina is, unfortunately, bigger than any one agency or institution’s scope, and addressing it responsibly and robustly demands the kind of multi-partner collaboration and commitment that this new Center represents,” said Dr. Ed Simmer, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“We are excited to work closely with key stakeholders and organizations to implement proven models of addiction care, and to develop new models to transform addiction care across South Carolina,” said Dr. Alain Litwin of Clemson University and USC School of Medicine – Greenville. “Our ultimate goal, a collective mission with these important partners, is to eliminate all opioid-related fatal overdoses in South Carolina.”

The money comes from the national opioid settlement. The program starts statewide but is designed to boost counties and local agencies significantly.

“What is special about these settlements is that counties and municipalities are getting a bulk sum of the funding for their investments,” said Goldsby. “We don’t expect every county or municipal leader to be an addiction expert but we offer some educational opportunities and technical assistance so that they can elevate their work with that funding.”

Goldsby says the initial focus may be on prevention, especially with adolescents before getting addicted.

“A concerted effort on prevention, especially youth and adolescents who have not yet developed a substance use disorder. That is essential and always will be essential,” said Goldsby.

The other focus is how to deal with the growing issue of fentanyl, which is showing up in various illicit drugs, and the users don’t even know it is there.

That is why the overdose numbers in Beaufort County alone are up more than 50% in the last year.

The center will also host a website dedicated to providing the public with information about its activities, along with educational resources.