Politics & Government

Richland and Lexington get high health rankings, but overdoses a concern

Richland and Lexington counties are two of the healthiest S.C. counties to live in, but researchers are worried about a creeping danger in the state’s health statistics.

Health experts flagged as a concern a continuing rise in premature deaths nationwide, with more and more deaths among those between 15 and 44 attributed to drug overdoses.

That trend can be seen in the numbers for S.C. counties released Wednesday by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Richland and Lexington are interesting because ... even though Lexington is healthier (than Richland), they have a higher number of drug overdoses,” said Jerry Spegman of the County Health program. “What we’re finding is that this is really hitting suburban counties.”

Lexington County ranks sixth out of 46 S.C. counties in overall health outcomes, while Richland County ranks 10th. The healthiest county in the state is Beaufort County, followed by Dorchester, York, Charleston and Greenville.

But the premature death rate – the number of people who die before 75 – has been creeping up, to 4,678 this year from 4,251 in 2016 in Richland.

By weighting the ages of those deaths, the County Health report calculates a loss of 7,500 years of life prior to 75, up from 7,400 years in the 2016 report.

In Lexington, the number of deaths rose to 3,390 from 3,208 the year before, a loss of 7,300 years of life in both years. However, that is an improvement on 2015, when 7,451 years were lost from 3,176 deaths.

Poorer counties have been hit even harder. In Marion County, which had the worst outcomes in this year’s report, the number of premature deaths rose to 777 from 720 in 2016. However, the age of those who died was much younger – a jump to 13,700 years lost from 12,400.

Not all those deaths can be blamed on drugs. “It’s tempting to blame that on opioids, and that is a significant driver of what we’re seeing, but it’s still less than car crashes, suicides and homicides,” Spegman said.

After Marion, the worst overall health outcomes in South Carolina were found in Dillon, Marlboro, Lee and Allendale counties.

The full 2017 S.C. report can be found online at bit.ly/2nfj4L7.