HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Two Coastal Carolina University students are joining the community's fight against heroin with The Horry Hope Initiative.
For a CCU Swain Scholars program, Sydney Brown and Ashley Lynch are going to be surveying people on their perceptions and experiences with drugs, particularly heroin and opioids, in an effort to help spur educational programs and raise awareness about their dangers.
"I think what makes our research so significant is nothing has ever been done like this in this area," Lynch said. "We're going to do the groundwork for others to take our research and do what they want to do with it."
Brown and Lynch talked with groups in the community that are active in fighting the heroin epidemic, such as the Myrtle Beach Police Department and an organization called the Addict's Mom.
"We thought it would be really important to look at it a little more and see what we can do to help," Brown said.
Those conversations helped them come up with questions to ask in their survey, such as "Have you taken prescription pain pills?" and "Were they prescribed to you?"
"Horry County, I read in an article, was considered the hub of heroin, which was something I didn't know anything about until we started looking into it more," Brown said.
The two will not only be surveying college students, but they'll also use those connections with organizations they've made already to help distribute the survey to reach as many types of people as possible.
"We're hoping to get feedback from everyone in the area," Lynch said. "We want a really diverse population of participants."
They want to compare how college students think about drugs with how the general public perceives them and also gather a variety of responses to help organizations involved in the heroin epidemic understand the habits and thoughts of people in the area they're serving.
"Ultimately the goal is to see the different perceptions each individual has," Lynch said. "Maybe a college student thinks drugs are OK and it's fun to maybe try a pharmaceutical every now and then, but maybe an addict's mom knows their son started by trying a pharmaceutical in college when he thought it was OK and now knows the real danger."
Janice Wright Collier has seen addiction firsthand.
"My son started with drugs and pot in 2005 and progressed up to heroin until he got clean a couple years ago," she said.
Now, Collier is part of the group The Addict's Mom, which provides support for mothers whose children are struggling with drugs and also eliminating stigmas about addicts. She said they're not the only ones who should be pushing for change.
"We need the lawmakers on our side," she said. "We need the police force, we need the healthcare professionals, we need the moms like us who have kids, and we love our kids and we're never giving up on them."
Collier said she helped Brown and Lynch with their survey questions and she thinks the results will help educate the public.
"Maybe it's opening doors for people to understand that there's a problem," she said.
The surveys are going to be online and in paper form. They will be available in the next couple of days and the two will gather the answers over the next month.
Myrtle Beach Police Department Lt. Joey Crosby said information like what Brown and Lynch will find out from their surveys can be helpful to determine how to better address the heroin problem. He added that it shows how this cannot strictly be a law enforcement matter; it must be a joint effort.
South Carolina State Sen. Greg Hembree said the data will be useful to help him create policy, as it helps decide the direction policies should be going.
In addition to sharing their results with others, Brown and Lynch also plan to put together an educational video to help college students understand the realities of drug addiction.
For more information on The Hope Initiative, click here.