A report that cites Yankton County as being one of the counties in South Dakota at higher risk for HIV and Hepatitis C infections should be treated as much as a call to action as a warning of a problem.

A story in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan stated that Yankton County has been categorized as being at greater risk by the South Dakota Vulnerability Assessment, which explored opioid-related deaths in this state and the impact of the opioid epidemic on the general population.

Yankton was one of 13 counties cited as being at higher risk. The others included Brown, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Corson, Dewey, Hughes, Lyman, Minnehaha, Oglala Lakota, Pennington and Roberts counties.

Opioid abuse can open the door to the threat from blood-borne pathogens, the report noted. Opioid abusers sometimes turn to street drugs when oral medications become harder to acquire.

“When a person starts off, they might start out with a prescription from a doctor and maybe they are having a higher pain level, misuse the prescription and become addicted,” Joshua Clayton, state epidemiologist for South Dakota, told the Press & Dakotan. “As the doctors focus less on prescribing oral medications, individuals may turn to street drugs, like heroin, and may start injecting those street drugs.”

Opioid abuse has swept the nation like an epidemic in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 68% of the 70,200 drug-related deaths in this nation in 2017 were attributed to opioids. (There were 35 opioid overdose deaths in South Dakota that year.) That national death rate was six times higher than it was in 1999. The CDC estimates that about 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.

But blood-borne pathogens add a new level of threat and further highlight the mental and physical danger opioids can create for abusers.

While the numbers and the damage tell a story, they also attach even more urgency to a need to confront the matter.

Clayton noted that the state has developed a strategic plan to take on opioid abuse. The program includes raising public awareness, emphasizing prevention, offering treatment and support, and boosting resources for care providers.

“This is an opioid roadmap in terms of the activities that are underway at the state level,” Clayton said. “Then, there will be follow-up as we discuss the results of this vulnerability analysis and assessment to bring that information to communities who can then identify what can be done to have a positive impact.”

The higher threats of HIV and Hepatitis C due to opioid abuse could be seen as a symptom of a much larger, more destructive problem. They are dramatic symptoms, to be sure.

But the larger problem — an epidemic that is hitting Americans of all ages — must be dealt with aggressively, and the front line in this war runs from the halls of Washington to the state capitols to your own medicine chest. It’s everyone’s war.


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