BARNWELL COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) – Amid record numbers of local deaths due to opioid overdose, the Axis I Center in Barnwell, SC, invited its faculty, staff, and the community to join them on Monday, March 6th to remember the almost two dozen individuals lost in 2022 after taking opioids.

Shortly before lunch Monday, the staff and community at Axis I, Barnwell County’s only substance abuse treatment and prevention provider, gathered at the center located at 179 Fuldner Road.

Some let go of a balloon that represented the life of someone they’d known whose life was lost in 2022 due to an opioid overdose

In Barnwell County, the deaths of 23 individuals were linked to opioid overdose in 2022 alone.

For comparison, in 2020, the staff at Axis I said there were only two overdose deaths reported in the entire county. In 2021, that number had grown to 10 lives taken due to opioid use.

While Black Balloon Day is a national day to bring awareness to opioid overdose deaths, observance of the event in Barnwell saw the national crisis personalized, with many in attendance knowing someone who’d recently lost their life due to opioid use.

Pam Rush, Executive Director at the Axis I Center, posted on social media prior to the event, “On this day we remember those we have lost to overdose. In Barnwell County alone, we lost 23 individuals to overdose in 2022. Although they are no longer with us, their families live every day with their memories.”

According to county statistics, from 2020 to 2023, Barnwell County saw a 1050%, roughly ten-fold, increase in overdose deaths linked to opioid use.

In addition to a balloon release and brief ceremony remembering those who’d died from opioid overdose in 2022, there was also be hands-on harm reduction training for those interested in participating, including distribution and demonstration how to use Narcan.

At the very least, Executive Director Rush said, the event was held to “show support to those families who have lost a loved one and to create an awareness of the options that are out there to help combat the opioid epidemic.”

The Center also distributed Fentanyl Testing Strips, with recovery coaches from the Center present to answer questions, talk one-on-one, or aid in services.