'It's just terrible:' State's lieutenant governor warns of cases of marijuana laced with carfentanil

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - As of 2016, Horry County has the highest amount of opioid deaths in South Carolina, according to the State Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Due to the ongoing crisis locally, across the state and across the nation, Myrtle Beach city leaders approved a plan to allocate $12,500 to help fund a $50,000 study of the regional heroin and opioid epidemic. Horry County will also put in $12,500, while Grand Strand Health, Tidelands Health, McLeod Health and Conway Medical Center will also pitch in $25,000 to retain the services for the study.

Renee Causey, a human services professor with Horry Georgetown Technical College and licensed social worker, will be leading the study and figuring out what the community needs in terms of resources and to have everyone on the same track.

Experts say the opioid epidemic has really been an evolving issue for quite some time. Myrtle Beach leaders say they hope this study will bring more awareness and more resources to battling the problem. Although it's a healthcare issue, experts say it's also a community and societal one.

Dr. Paul Richardson, Chief Medical Officer at Conway Medical Center expressed what he hopes this study will do for what's called, a public crisis.

"What we're hoping this study will do is really help us identify and really get some synergy around our community resources," Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center, said. "So, we can really focus more of the attention on where it should go and really try to help folks as much as possible."

The exact date for this study is not set yet, but Richardson said it shouldn't be in the too-distant future.

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant said doctor shopping and fraudulent prescription opioid drugs are still a problem. However, it's not like it used to be.

Bryant said what it has done is create a gateway to heroin and synthetic opioids like carfentanil. The drug is so strong that it's killing drug dogs.

Fentanyl comes mainly from China and the biggest issue with the drug is that it only takes a small amount for a user, making it easy to smuggle. Due to the need for such small quantities per use, a little carfentanil goes a very long way to supplying many users.

According to the Canadian Centre for Addictions, "the equivalent of one grain of salt of carfentanil is enough to kill a human being."

Bryant is warning everyone in the state that there have been recent cases of marijuana being laced with carfentanil. These drug dealers are opening the gates to marijuana customers, exposing them to this extremely powerful and potent drug.

"It's a big problem all over the state. Every law enforcement state agency, we've met with most of the sheriffs all around the state, and they are just telling us it's just terrible," Bryant said. "I think what we really need to do is, there is pending legislation to strengthen the penalties on some of the synthetic opioids. But the fentanyl and carfentanil is such a small quantity, it makes it harder to find a dealer, so those penalties have to be strengthened a lot more than some of the other drugs just because it's so hard to catch them."

There are drug take-back boxes located at law enforcement agencies all over the state for residents to return expired drugs that may lead to an addiction.

Bryant said that public awareness is critical to teach people how dangerous and deadly these drugs really are.

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