‘I’ve seen people die’: Horry County nonprofit says more funding needed to combat opioid crisis

Updated: Dec. 17, 2019 at 7:26 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - For two years, Nicole Criss has worked at Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) without a salary.

FAVOR is a nonprofit offering recovery support to individuals addicted to substances in Horry and Georgetown County.

“There is a huge need for it, huge. And we can’t even come close to reaching people that all the people that we would like to reach,” Criss said.

She’s the executive director at the organization but said she doesn’t think she’ll be able to work there full-time anymore.

“The state does not support recovery community organizations hardly at all,” she said. “I held out as long as I could, but it’s just not happening here and it’s really, it really breaks my heart.”

The Grand Strand and Tri-County branches of FAVOR received around $200,000 in the last year and a half, but Criss said their money goes toward paying electric bills and other supplies, while all workers are volunteers.

“I think that there’s gonna come a time when FAVOR is not going to be able to be here. If some substantial funding doesn’t come through,” Criss said. “It is very hard to get quality consistent services from volunteers.”

South Carolina representatives Wendy Brawley and John King pre-filed a bill last week that would allocate more tax dollars to the crisis.

The bill would create the ‘South Carolina Opioid Prevention Trust Fund’ to provide funding to nonprofits for counseling services. The money would specifically target rural community-based organizations.

“I think the bill is necessary to establish relationships with those nonprofits, some of whom may already be trying to do this work but need some financial assistance to do it," Brawley said.

Brawley said she would like to see the state allocate at least $1.2 million dollars.

“This year we have quite a bit of additional funds in the upcoming year’s budget and this is an opportunity for us to look at how we can make sure these funds are addressing issues in rural pockets of the state," she said.

The state does currently provide funding for services to combat opioid addiction but Brawley said more can be done.

“I do think the state has taken some effort to make certain that this is an issue that’s at the top of its priority but I also think making sure those services reach rural communities particularly when you have nonprofits that are already trying to do this work but just need a helping hand. I think the state can step in and do a whole lot to make sure we’re supporting those nonprofits in these rural communities that are doing the work,” Brawley said.

State legislators dedicated $4.75 million from the General Fund to combat the opioid crisis over the last year and a half, according to the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS).

Funding from South Carolina made up only about 16% of the overall funds DAODAS distributed over the last year and a half, $19 million was from the federal level.

Another $1.75 million in state funding was allocated for the crisis in the 2017 fiscal year.

If the prefiled bill passes, DAODAS would work with nonprofits to distribute the funds.

A spokesperson for the department said it “Would welcome the opportunity to be involved with the South Carolina Opioid Prevention Trust Fund. As federal funding shifts from specifically funding opioid-related projects to more comprehensive substance use disorder approaches, state funding to address opioid use disorder will be key to our success in this area.”

While the state has started to funnel money into decreasing opioid addiction, not all the efforts are felt across the state.

Municipalities in Horry and Georgetown Counties spent $60,000 for an opioid study in 2018.

The study found funding was one of the main hurdles for the counties in combating the opioid crisis.

"There is funding coming into the state but we have very little financial resources coming into these counties. And the biggest challenge our addicts are facing is their fear of coming forward and not knowing where to go or having the proper services in place,” Rachel Causey, the professor who performed the study, said in February.

Lack of coordination and access to services were also noted as obstacles in the counties.

Horry County ranked third in the state for opioid-related deaths in 2018, according to DAODAS. Both the state and county overdose numbers increased from the previous year.

“I’ve seen people die because we can’t offer the services that they need because of lack of resources and that’s sad. But we’re talking about life and death here and when you know it’s your mother, it’s your brother, it’s your kid. It’s not that junkie. It’s a human being and each one of us who struggled with this has potential. It’s a disease. It’s not a moral failing,” Criss said.

A spokesperson for Myrtle Beach said the city has spoken with state lawmakers about the study and the need for solutions to the epidemic in Horry County. The city said no additional state money has been allocated but the city is hoping it will.

“We do have the power to do it and this year we will have the money to do it so I think this is the time to try to combat this crisis before it’s beyond control,” Brawley said about the Opioid Prevention Trust Fund her bill proposes.

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