HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County ranks number one in South Carolina for opioid deaths. The staggering statistic led Conway Medical Center to host its first opioid awareness event.
In partnership with the Horry County Coroner's Office, the Grand Rounds program called "Global to Local: Opiates in our Town" was aimed for Conway Medical staff to learn more about the opioid epidemic facing the community.
"I think we all as a society have an obligation to tackle this thing, this didn't happen overnight and we aren't going to fix it overnight, unfortunately," said Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center.
Conway Medical Center said it's proactive in working with people to improve education and communication around the major health crisis and helping others. Richardson explained, "I looked up the statistic for here in Conway and we had a nearly 70 percent increase in overdoses presented to our facility, year to compared, not deaths, fortunately most of our folks we do a resuscitation here or what not."
It was a combination of professionals in the room from Shoreline Behavioral Health Services and the Horry County Coroner's Office who spoke to Conway Medical staff about fatalities from overdoses. Since mid-2015, there's been a spike in the use of opioids and the coroner's office said the total overdose deaths are down 15 percent, but specifically opioid deaths are up 20 percent within the past year.
A Department of Health and Environmental Control investigator was also at the event to talk about the prescription monitoring program, which is a database to help figure out what their patients are already taking or if they are going from doctor to doctor to try to get a hold of opiates.
Shoreline Behavioral Health Services shared a statistic noting in Horry County there are roughly 333,000 people, and last year there were 334,000 opioid prescriptions written. Richardson said, "That's staggering, it's just crazy that for one prescription for every person, every man, woman and child in Horry County, obviously that's too much."
Michelle McSpadden, the deputy coroner for Horry County, said, "We need to know what our numbers are and what people are dying of. We would like to be able to say to the families of substance abuse disorders that this is what's out there, you may think you have a heroin user, but its heroin mixed with fentanyl and that's a dangerous combination."
McSpadden said their hope is law enforcement, EMS and the use of narcan can prevent a fatal overdose, but sometimes it's too late. "At the federal level, we are talking 8, 10, 20 years sometimes for distribution, so our law enforcement is doing what they can to take the drugs off the streets," McSpadden stated.
The coroner's office mapped out where the most fatal overdoses occur. Their findings showed the eastern part of Horry County from Conway to the beach are the highest. McSpadden explained, "Some around Coastal Carolina, but a lot of it is right along the strand for some reason, and it may just be there are some housing options there for people who are in the midst of addiction and move from hotel to hotel. If you live in Green Sea, you may travel further to get what you need or what you're looking for, but at the beach its readily available."
Officials also have noticed a trend from cocaine in the 80's. "Those same paths are the same now bringing in heroin and fentanyl, mostly through Mexico and up into I-95 drug corridor and up to New York and New Jersey and then end up here," said McSpadden.
While police seize drugs on the streets, in the past year McSpadden explained that heroin remains the most common drug used. Meth has increased 245 percent, while cocaine and fentanyl are on track to double.
"A lot of it is a wake up call, you hear these numbers and we see it every day, but until you see the statistics, you can't fully appreciate the huge magnitude we are facing," Richardson stated.