Overdose deaths in Horry County likely to be higher than 2018

Updated: Dec. 30, 2019 at 7:17 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The latest numbers from the Horry County Coroner’s Office reveal overdose deaths are on pace to exceed the 109 deaths reported in 2018.

Ninety-seven people died from an overdose in Horry County in the first 9 months of the year, according to deputy coroner Michelle McSpadden.

McSpadden said the county is still waiting on toxicology data for the remaining part of the year, but 19 more overdoses were reported in 2019 from the same time frame in 2018.

The county began tracking the type of drug involved in the overdose in mid-2015, since then, the percent of overdoses involving fentanyl has increased.

McSpadden said around 53% of the 2019 overdoses were associated with fentanyl.

Even with only nine months of data, at 52 cases, 2019 fentanyl cases have surpassed 2018 statistics.

Janice Wright-Collier has lived in Horry County for more than 20 years and also works as a recovery coach at Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR). She said she just lost a friend to an overdose last week.

“I think everybody’s tired of people dying and there’s no reason, I mean, why aren’t we doing something?” Wright-Collier said.

She said she’s had good conversations with local leaders who are trying to help but funding is still needed.

Wright-Collier has known numerous family members and friends who needed treatment for their addiction but had to leave the county and state to find it. She said she would like to see an in-patient long-term treatment facility in Horry County.

“That’s what people seem to not realize. They’ve got a disease. They don’t, nobody wants to be a heroin addict or a meth addict. Nobody who would want that but once it gets you, it gets you and it really takes your soul,” she said “That’s why it’s so crucial to stay around once you getaway, go to treatment and what should ideally would be nice if you could do it here but then have followup and be in recovery community.”

John Coffin, the executive director at Shoreline Behavioral Health Services in Conway, said since 2012, their active clients have increased from 15 to 800.

“We saw the numbers skyrocket and then we kind of mobilized with other community partners to really try and figure out what are the unique approaches that you need, you know, to deal with this when it really hits epidemic proportions as it has,” Coffin said.

The center has added a residential program for women at risk of losing a child due to substance disorder, a medication-assisted treatment program and become a community distributor of Narcan.

“A lot of federal money has been coming in, which has been very helpful. It’s arguable that there’s never enough. There’s still problems with people who have struggled with inability to pay,” Coffin said.

Coffin said the stigma around treatment is a big challenge that needs to be tackled to reduce the number of overdose deaths. He believes increasing availability of Narcan and spreading awareness that addiction is a disease are ways the county can combat the rise in overdose deaths.

As the number of deaths stay steady, first responders are also using Narcan more and more to save lives.

“I would say daily. We get a variance of calls so we might take a cardiac arrest or we might have somebody who looks intoxicated somehow and our people will respond and if it looks like it’s needed, we’ll administer Narcan,” said Horry County Fire Rescue spokesperson Tony Casey.

The Horry County Fire Rescue reported administering Narcan on 772 people in 2019, 141 more times than 2018.

“It’s a really good tool to bring people back to life if we need it, so having it when we need it, we do. We like to think we’re saving lives all the time with it," Casey said.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) ranks Horry County top in the state for accidental drug overdoses based on population for 2015-2017.

Horry and Georgetown leaders commissioned a study earlier this year to identify ways to combat the opioid crisis. Lack of funding and coordination were identified as key obstacles for the area.

“I don’t think we’re in a decline yet. So I think it’s like there is going to be a natural peak to this and then it’s going to subside some,” Coffin said. “And what you do during any epidemic is, you know, you just save as many lives as you can. That’s the goal. That’s what we try and do.”

Shoreline Behavioral Health encourages anyone seeking treatment for themselves or someone they know to call.

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