Community Action Needed to Combat Opioid Crisis

by Bennie Swans.

This is only March and already there have been 93 deaths due to opioid overdoses in Horry County. That is simply unbelievable and it’s an indication that strong, effective action must be taken to combat what has become a deadly crisis.

A solid step was taken Feb. 27 at the 2018 Bucksport Opioid Summit, when law enforcement officials and community organization representatives gathered at the James R. Frazier Community Center to discuss ways to combat this terrible epidemic that is taking the lives of so many in our community.

I was tremendously pleased with the outcome and was pleased to serve as facilitator of the Summit. I want to express my appreciation to the grassroots organization, Voices of Recovery, and the Carolina African American Heritage Foundation for organizing this event, hosted by Horry County Councilman Harold Phillips.

After all, the only way to make headway and put an end to this epidemic is for people to work collectively and forge strong relationships with treatment organizations. Unfortunately, we do not have affordable treatment facilities in our region, so unless a victim has substantial health insurance or a strong bank account, treatment resources simply are not within reach.

At the Summit, 15th Circuit Court Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said a crackdown on heroin traffickers is having success.

“If you are trafficking in heroin, we have just been knocking that out of the park,” he said. “We have been getting 15, 20, 25 years on people that are trafficking heroin.”

But for addicts, the key, he said, is to discourage people from trying drugs, and then to get help for those who become addicted.

I was moved by Dennis and Noreen Beck, of Voices of Recovery South Carolina, who have lost two children to addiction, including stepson Jimmy, who died just a month ago from a drug overdose. Beck helped to organize the event. What courage and dedication that exhibited.

Pastor Jerry Faulk, community activist, discussed the role of the clergy in dealing with the drug epidemic, and there were several area ministers present. Rev. Stephen Brown emphasized the importance of parents taking responsibility for their children.

“We’re going to need everyone to start as young as you possibly can, sharing with your children why they need not try these drugs,” he said.

Panelists were Pat Appell/Federal Government Law Enforcement, Tara Williard /Horry County Coroners Office and a representative from Horry County Police Dept. Also present was Tom Fox/ Deputy Horry County Sheriff Dept., as several recovering addicts shared their stories and their personal road to recovery.

It was also stressed that parents need to clean out their medicine cabinets and properly dispose of drugs, such as painkillers, that can be abused by children. Unfortunately, that is how many children are being introduced to opioids, and then they progress to other dangerous drugs, such as heroin.

Providing resource information were Shoreline, Vocational Rehabilitation, A Father’s Place, Oxford House Owl’s Nest, Lighthouse Care Center, New Horizon, the chaplain from J. Reuben Long Detention Center and Voices of Recovery.

A spirited conversation evolved among panelist and community members and because of this positive exchange several follow-up actions are in the works. For example:

We need our state legislators to help provide the resources needed to provide affordable treatment for those who have become addicted.

We need to seek and take advantage of available federal grants to support treatment for those who are addicted.

We need to encourage effective education about the dangers of these drugs within our schools and our community.

Meanwhile, last week President Trump held a high level opioid summit at the White House, where promises were made to tackle this growing crisis nationally and Trump said drug dealers should be subjected to the death penalty.

Trump’s federal budget for 2019, which would make massive cuts in Medicaid and other healthcare and social services, calls for new funding to combat the opioid crisis. And, finally, he has nominated a new drug czar to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Many lawmakers have criticized the White House for scaling back ONDCP’s role in coordinating the administration’s response to the opioid crisis, and for taking so long to nominate a new director.

Sadly, there was a lot of talk, a lot of posturing, but nothing concrete that came out of the White House opioid summit. We need better leadership than that if we are ever going to solve this problem.

At least here in Horry County, the Bucksport Summit showed that people can come together to find effective solutions. Let’s hope that continues, but solid, concrete, financial assistance is certainly needed from the federal government.

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