AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The CSRA is seeing an increasing number of people overdosing from drugs, many of them dying. Local health leaders say these narcotics are made more dangerous with Fentanyl.

“You got three choices. You got recovery. You got jail. And you got death. Pick one,” said Richard Harmon, Executive Director of Day By Day.

Harmon started helping people suffering from drug addition and their families four years ago after it hit close to home.

“Our son was an addict. And because of the things that we went through with him over a 12 year period that we didn’t understand as parents, because we were the greatest enablers of the world, we learned that’s not the way you do things,” he told us adding that his son has been clean for the past five years.

Now through his non-profit, Harmon can be found going in and out of drug areas, which he said knows no location, age, ethnicity or socio economic status. Whether its South Carolina or Georgia, which has a hot bed between the Washington Road corridor between I-20 and Bobby Jones Expressway, he said more people, especially women, are becoming addicted to the opioid Fentanyl.

“I’ve actually taken one person out of one motel that called me and asked me to pick him up and I did,” Harmon explained. “When I got there, two doors to two rooms were wide open and I could see six people in one room and seven in the other. All of them shooting up at the same time.”

“If you’re taking these drugs, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when it’s going to happen,” Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen explained.

Coroner Bowen reported since 2020, overdose deaths increased from 48 to 63. And he said most of them are from drug mixtures that included Fentanyl, making the cocktail more deadly.

He added, “Heroine, Cocaine, Oxycodone, Morphine.”

The same drug mixtures, including mostly Fentanyl, can be found among the high number of overdose deaths reported by the Aiken County Coroner. His data shows 74 overdose deaths in 2020 and 59 in 2021.

And for those who survive, it’s an up hill battle, but not without help. Aiken Center, which offers substance use, abuse and addiction treatment saw more than 116 patients with opioid use in 2020 and 129 patients in 2021. Data shows some of the high burden areas for fatal and non fatal overdoses are North Augusta, Aiken and Warrenville.

But they offer free Fentanyl test strip kits and lifesaving Narcan nasal spray, no questions asked. According to staff at Aiken Center, they are dispensed without an appointment necessary at the agency office in Aiken, 1105 Gregg Hwy, as well as at Aiken Center’s Savannah River ROC, which is located within the Community Ministry of North Augusta’s office at 531 Belvedere-Clearwater Rd in Belvedere, SC. 

But another recovery group, 143 Ministries, focuses on a cure using the Bible and Jesus Christ.

Boyd Long, who is the Men’s Director for Immanuel House at 143 Ministries told us, “Ultimately, people use because they don’t like the way they feel. We not only teach them why they use, but we go back to the original addictions and the things that led them to change the way that they use.”

Long said they are seeing more people addicted to Fentanyl too, especially the younger crowd. But armed with a new recovery manual written by 143 Ministries leader Cliff Nobles, they believe women and men can be restored after the drugs are out of their systems.

“Once they go to detox they come to us. We really start loving them back to life,” Long said.

Long adds the hotline to call for help from 143 Ministries is 1 (800) 560-7143. Ext. 1 for Katherine’s Way and Ext. 2 for Immanuel House.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps