FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice hosted an anti-drug task force summit at the Dr's. Bruce and Lee Foundation Library on Wednesday to bring light to the drug epidemic he said the region is facing.
"We've got to do a better job of figuring out mechanisms to diminish it, whether it be by controlling our southern body like I said before, where most of this stuff is coming from, whether it be doing a better job at riding out the facilitators, whether it be doing a better job for treatment for addicts," Rice said.
Rice said Congress has passed at least a dozen bills in the last couple years as the drug epidemic becomes more widespread. However, he said Washington can't fix it alone.
The anti-drug task force unit is one step closer to finding solutions in battling an epidemic that is not limited to one area, and is one that crosses every racial, age and state jurisdiction.
The goal of the event was also for law enforcement officials and healthcare professionals across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee to discuss possible solutions they feel are not being trade. Rice said other districts in the state were holding anti-drug task force summits, so he wanted to do the same.
"When you look at the percentage growth, it's shocking how this epidemic is not shrinking," Rice said. "It's not like most diseases that we see where we are coming up with new treatments and dramatic reductions in afflicted people. This is on the opposite side."
The panels shared insights and current efforts, statistics of the heroin and opioid abuse in the communities, and an opportunity for a question-and-answer session.
"We can fund some of these local programs, but this is going to have to be all boots on the ground at the local level to root out the sources of these problems," Rice said. "We need more programs for people who can't afford it. Anybody can go to drug court. The reason they don't go is because it's hard and they don't want to."
Nicki White, a drug court graduate, spoke to the crowd, saying she was sitting in jail as she was approached to enter the treatment program.
"Maybe most people thinking it's just criminals and an easy let-off for criminals who just take the program, but I wanted to let people know drug court can change someone's life," White said.
The goal for White was to become a productive part of society again instead of a hindrance.
"It puts offenders like myself - repeat offenders - back in the community with the life skills we haven't learned or didn't know or forgot, and there are consequences for our actions if we don't follow it," White said.
White spent five months in jail before going into the 20-month treatment program. Law enforcement officials added that locking someone up does not exactly cure the disease. Instead, society must reach the people's needs and not stop until there is full recovery.
"I haven't looked back and its been a blessing," said White.
Rice said there will be one more anti-drug task force summit in the Grand Strand, but the date isn't set yet. He also plans to branch out and speak at the schools in an effort to educate students and teachers.