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Horry County, SC First Responders, Heroin Users, Local and Federal Agencies Join Forces to Address the Opioid Epidemic

On Thursday, Horry County, South Carolina community took a much-needed step forward to increase public awareness of the devastating effects of opiate abuse. First responders, local and federal agencies, former heroin users as well as families of those suffering from an opioid use disorder gathered at Coastal Carolina University to address the alarming prescription opioid and heroin epidemic sweeping the county, state and nation. According to DEA agent Patrick Aspel, 80 people died of opioid-related overdose in Horry County this year alone. Aspel also stated that the fight against the non-discriminatory epidemic requires joint and sustained effort from different organizations and agencies.

Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill echoed the idea of coming together as a community as the only way to effectively put an end to this rampant public health crisis. Hill added that law enforcement officials in the county are joining forces with treatment providers and counselors to curb the spread of the heroin epidemic. He also emphasized the importance of follow-up after a user has received medication-assisted treatment.

Other speakers at the event stated that the culprit in the staggering heroin epidemic that cuts across all demographic lines is the use and abuse of prescription opiate pain relievers. Todd Spraling, DEA assistant agent in charge said that 4 out of 5 young adults that abuse prescription painkillers will use heroin. Spraling added that both parents and relatives of young adults need to be more circumspect and educated in regards to this matter. As an effective solution against sending their kids'lives into a downward spiral of heroin use, he proposed the "better safe than sorry" approach and urged parents to begin locking prescription drugs up just like they lock their guns up.

Scott Thompson, Deputy Chief at Horry County Fire Rescue shared some alarming statistics - 674 people have been treated with the opiate overdose reversal medicine Narcan since January 1st, 2016; each dose of the life-saving drug costs about $50. DEA agent Patrick Aspel talked about the extremely dangerous synthetic painkiller fentanyl that is incorporated into heroin, claiming that heroin users are actually playing Russian roulette with their own lives because they are not aware of the lethal effects of this substance mixed with heroin by drug dealers for a more intense high. Never using it in the first place is the best way to combat the opioid epidemic.

FBI resident agent Mike Connelly also spoke at the event held at Coastal Carolina University, stating that there are 3 levels in the fight against the heroin epidemic - supply, user, and family/community level, each employing different tools to make a difference. According to Connelly, help from the community is crucial in order to overcome this devastating epidemic. Among the speakers were also Noreen Beck, who lost her son to heroin, as well as former heroin users Chris Hocker and Gene Floyd, who shared their heartbreaking stories and urged users to seek medication-assisted treatment before it's too late. Floyd also discussed the lack of resources of those who want help, but cannot afford to pay for a 12-step program. He believes that more funds will be available when everyone in the community, not just those directly affected by this epidemic, begins to really care.

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