SC to get money from federal government for opioid epidemic

SC to get money from federal government for opioid epidemic

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The federal government is giving nearly half a billion dollars to every state to tackle the opioid epidemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is granting South Carolina $6,575,623 for the first round of funding from a law passed last year.

"Opioids were responsible for over 33,000 deaths in 2015; this alarming statistic is unacceptable to me," Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D. wrote in a letter to governors whose states are receiving funding. "We cannot continue to lose our nation's citizens to addiction. Through a sustained focus on people, patients and partnerships, I am confident that together we can turn the tide on this public health crisis."

The money will help the state with prevention, treatment and recovery services for opioid addiction.

Horry County doesn't have a long-term treatment center. The closest one is in the Florence area, Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Joey Crosby said.

Myrtle Beach City Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said Horry County has drug court, which has helped, but the problem is too big for it to conquer because of the lack of treatment centers here.

"We have people ready to go into treatment today who can't find a bed," Jeffcoat said. "We're sending them far and wide to other states because South Carolina simply does not have the beds. It is a crisis."

Jeffcoat said it's more expensive to incarcerate somebody than to help treat them.

"It's real important we use this particular pot of money to either get ahead of the problem and prevent people from contracting the disease and once they do have the disease to help them get better," she said.

Janice Wright-Collier's son was addicted to heroin. She said options for treatment around Horry County were very limited.

"It's a very scary place to be because one day you might be OK and the next day you might be dead," Wright-Collier said.

Her son ended up having to go to a long-term treatment center in the Florence area because Horry County doesn't have one.

"Thank God I was able to pull that off," she said. "As far as anything here, there was nothing."

Wright-Collier said she also hopes new funding from the federal government will create more treatment centers for the area.

"Is it needed here? That's an understatement. It's been needed here for so long and they've been talking about it for years. And pretty much it's time we do something," she said. "If one person dies a week here, that's too many."

Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said more than 120 people died of an overdose last year in Horry County, 65 of them from heroin. Nearly 10 people died from a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, and 19 died from fentanyl alone.

So far in 2017, Edge said about 20 people have died from overdose. He estimates he and his staff members respond to an average of three overdoses a week.

Jeffcoat said she doesn't know exactly how this money from the federal government is going to be distributed within the state or who is going to make decisions about it.

She said she thinks the state should take a holistic approach to put in more treatment centers and prevention programs because it's beneficial for addicts to go to treatment centers out of their immediate area.

However, Jeffcoat said if the state isn't going to do that, then local governments should be able to use the money as they see fit.

Wright-Collier said people can text their zip code to (520) 200-2223 to receive a list of their elected officials and their phone numbers to contact them about this.

Copyright 2017 WMBF News. All rights reserved.