The use and abuse of drugs containing opioids has been termed a national epidemic by academicians and government officials alike. Not only does this plague take a tremendous toll on those suffering from the disease and their families, but the societal cost in terms of crime (to feed the habit) and the consumption of public resources (to investigate the crimes committed and save the lives of those who overdose) is immense, as well.
Sadly, no part of our nation is immune to opioid abuse, including South Carolina, the Grand Strand and the City of Myrtle Beach. Elected officials at every level have two policy choices to make in dealing with the issue of drug abuse – continually respond to the symptoms and hope they eventually go away, or own the problem and develop workable prevention, education, interdiction and treatment strategies. The City of Myrtle Beach is choosing the latter, and is South Carolina’s leader in this regard.
First and foremost, our job is to provide for the safety of our residents and guests. Toward that end, the Myrtle Beach’s first responders carry and are trained to use Narcan, a drug that has already saved the lives of thousands of overdose victims across the country. These drugs are powerful, to the point where only one dose can kill.
Our police officers work through special teams, including the Gang, Warrants and Narcotics Units, to intensify our drug interdiction efforts. Also critical is the on-going community policing. Officers are in the community, observing, listening and offering help. The city also sponsored an Opioid Community Awareness Workshop in August 2016. We have nearly 30 neighborhood and business watch groups working daily with our officers to identify drug issues and to stifle other criminal activity before it occurs.
This epidemic crosses all socioeconomic groups and does not recognize jurisdictional boundaries. Given that, our law enforcement response is a team approach, partnering with other local police agencies and regional task forces, including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau (ATF).
The Myrtle Beach Police Department was recognized this week by Governor Henry McMaster for its leadership in South Carolina’s drug prevention efforts. Our police chief and deputy police chief both have been invited by the governor to serve on the state’s Opioid Summit.
The Police Department is actively involved in the 15th Judicial Circuit’s Heroin Task Force. The Task Force recognizes that incarceration alone will not end the epidemic. Instead, this ongoing effort brings together law enforcement officers across Horry and Georgetown Counties with service and treatment providers and raises public awareness of the available drug abuse prevention efforts. The coalition sponsors the “Nights of Hope” series to give hope to families whose loved ones are battling addiction. And, it successfully unites active drug addicts with treatment resources to get the help they need.
The Myrtle Beach City Council believes that our best strategy in the war on opioid abuse is to keep our kids and young adults from ever taking that first hit. Toward that end, the city partnered with Horry County Schools to bring in a nationally-known speaker and former NBA player Chris Herren to talk with our high school students and residents about his personal struggle with addiction. The Coalition also sponsors Public Service Announcements featuring prominent members of our community.
We are making progress… The number of cases where Myrtle Beach’s first responders had to administer Narcan has dropped by more than 43% since 2016. The number of deaths from drug overdose is down, too, in Horry County.
City Council continues to build upon these strategies. In December, the city led an effort that included Horry County, Georgetown County and local healthcare providers HCA, Tidelands, McLeod and Conway Hospital. Together, the group commissioned a study of local resources available to address the opioid epidemic and to recommend best practices. City Council will review the findings and recommendations in a public meeting in October.
Finally, we offer hope to those who have family members struggling with addiction or who are struggling personally: help is available. Myrtle Beach is funding the “peer support” addiction program through our non-profit partner, New Directions. What’s unique about this program is that it connects those in need with a counselor who has personal experience in the struggle for sobriety.
Not only has the counselor “been there and done that,” but he made it through to the other side and is there to connect you with existing resources and provide reassurance and guidance. If you or someone you love fits this description, please call William, New Direction’s Peer Support Counselor, at 843-360-9264. He did it, and you can too. Call him.