Residents in recovery encourage people to overcome addiction after disturbing 2020 overdose deaths report

Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 7:05 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Horry County neighbors want to spread a message of hope for anyone struggling with addiction.

It comes at a time when DHEC leaders are fighting to prevent future overdose deaths.

On Tuesday, DHEC provided a report that reveals overdose deaths spiked during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report says the Palmetto State saw a 59% increase in opioid-involved overdose deaths from 876 in 2019 to 1,400 in 2020.

It further states a 53% increase in total drug overdose deaths during that time period, from 1,131 to 1,734.

A contributing reason DHEC says is the pandemic.

But medical leaders say Fentanyl, an addictive synthetic opioid, is responsible for the dramatic increase in overdose deaths.

“Heartbreaking,” said Horry County resident Chad Widenhouse. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Widenhouse has been in recovery for over three years.

He says it’s so important for state and local leaders to put a spotlight on people winning their addiction battles so folks know recovery is possible. Because right now, he says the opioid crisis is hurting too many neighbors.

“I know a guy, who just five weeks ago that had gone back out from recovery and smoked a joint and it killed him because it was laced with Fentanyl,” Widenhouse said.

Nicole Criss has been in recovery for over eight years.

She’s committed to helping others overcome their addictions with the organization ‘The Peer Connection.’

Based on what she’s seeing, Criss says Fentanyl is hurting our communities.

“Everybody who’s testing that’s reporting back to us is telling us everything they’re testing has Fentanyl in it. That’s another piece that’s really contributing to the overdoses, the fact that Fentanyl is just being found on the streets more and more,” Criss.

DHEC says they’re lased focused on turning this overdose tide around. This includes partnerships with local hospitals and first responders so everyone can work together with the response.

In the meantime, Criss and Widenhouse want to remind anyone struggling with addictions-you can overcome it.

“There is a way out if you want it. There are millions of people living in active recovery today, leading wonderful lives like me,” Criss.

“As an alcoholic-I’m a liar, cheat and a thief. But when I find recovery all those things can go away and get honest,” Widenhouse said.

Some people, including state leaders, feel a possible solution towards addressing the drug crisis is by providing harsher punishments for drug dealers.

WMBF News asked DHEC and medical leaders if those types of actions could prevent overdose death.

“It’s a very fine line between a penalty for a drug dealer or distributor and making sure that we’re not criminalizing an end-user. And because that line is so fine, we have to be careful with policy instruments that tend to be very blunt. We want to be absolutely sure we’re not criminalizing people who are sick and have an illness and need intervention and treatment services,” said Sara Goldsby, Director of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.

One part of the solution everyone was on board with-erasing the stigmas surrounding addictions so more people won’t be ashamed to reach out for help.

Criss says in order for the stigma to be erased, discussions need to take place about addictions. This is why she’s encouraging people who want to help overcome the drug epidemic to attend an upcoming documentary screening for ‘Tipping the Pain Scale.’

Criss says the film will provide people a real-life picture of what is happening with the opioid crisis and what those efforts look like for responders and families trying to combat it.

After the showing, there will be a round-table discussion for people to talk about the events they witnessed and what people in the community can do to fight the drug crisis.

The documentary will be shown on March 18 at the Horry-Georgetown Technical College on the Conway campus. It starts at 6:30 p.m. inside the Burroughs & Chapin Auditorium.

You must register beforehand. You can access a free ticket for the showing on The Peer Connection site.

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