Local counselors say opioid addiction has been here a while. That’s not the epidemic.
The epidemic is now more and more people are dying from that addiction and communities everywhere are scrambling for answers on how to reverse that fate.
“We don’t just have this influx of addicts all of a sudden. What we have is the potency of what the addicts are getting now, kills them,” said Spencer Josey, a licensed professional counselor at Coastal Recovery Center in Myrtle Beach.
The stories of addiction vary and several people in recovery have recounted their tales of caution in programs throughout Horry County in recent months. But for many, the road to overdose didn’t start with flashing neon lights that proclaimed death and danger lurked around the bend. When it comes to opioid addiction, though, that can be the case.
“These addicts have been right here. This is no new issue or problem other than they’re dying now. They’re overdosing. And the first responders are just at their wits ends and they cannot keep up with the influx of calls they’re getting,” Josey said. “That’s the epidemic.”
And whether the long, cold, lonely walk to overdose started with a simple prescription to treat pain or a fun experiment with friends as a teen, unless the course of addiction is altered the road for many will end … at a dead stop.
Overdoses have skyrocketed in recent years in Horry County and statistics have shown that the disease of this addiction does not discriminate in its victims. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Black. White. No one is immune.
Coastal Recovery Center, which opened in 2007, offers intensive outpatient treatment for all addictions and behavioral issues for adults age 18 and older. The center depends largely on private contributions and insurance to offer affordable treatment to those in need, but last year the center saw another need among some of the city’s youngest.
A recent church poll of 103 teen students in the Myrtle Beach area revealed 68 percent were using drugs and alcohol at least monthly; 44 percent had tried marijuana; 8 percent had used cocaine; and, 15 percent were using depressant drugs like Xanax and the sleep-aid Ambien.
Studies have shown, if addicts “started using in the adolescent years, it’s four times more likely that they become addicted as an adult,” Josey said.
With the help of a grant from the Chapin Foundation, Josey said they opened Myrtle Beach’s first intensive outpatient treatment center for adolescents when they moved the center to its new location off of 44th Avenue North in July. Josey serves as clinical director of the New Journey SDG adolescent center.
“Addiction is a disease of denial,” said Dr. James Graham, the medical director at Coastal Recovery, which extends its treatment programs to New Journey.
Families don’t want to see that their kids have an addiction, he said. “But if they’re using, they’ve got a problem. … It’s a progressive disease. People see the behavior, but they don’t understand that their behavior is caused by the fact that they’re already using.”
“Age of onset is a big factor,” Graham said. “The earlier the onset the more damage it’s going to do to the development of the frontal lobe of the brain.”
Age of onset, frequency of use, potency and accessibility are all factors that can influence addiction, Graham said.
“Over the years you see trends change of what’s the problem drug at hand and a lot of it’s driven by what’s accessible to them,” Josey said. For teens, marijuana from friends and pills in a grandparent’s medicine cabinet can be accessed easier than alcohol, he added.
But tolerance can quickly become a factor with opioid use.
“There’s a 20-fold tolerance with opiates,” Graham said. “So on the 10th day I’ve got to give somebody five times the amount I did the first day to get the same effect. That’s how they get hooked and they can’t get unhooked and the doctors will prescribe opiates now for anything.”
And when the supply of pills stops, it becomes decision time.
“Usually the pattern is this,” Josey said. “They start using, they build their tolerance up and so they start using a little bit more than they’re prescribed. Now they have to increase the dose and the doctor might do that a few times or they might go to what we call doctor shopping” with multiple doctors calling in prescriptions.
But something often happens to the supply. Medical professionals were put on notice by insurance companies last year that if they are prescribing opiates they must pull the pharmaceutical records on their patients.
“Now, all of a sudden the doctor sees Johnny is getting opiates from multiple doctors so the doctor says, ‘No more. I’m not seeing you,’ ” Josey said. “Then that individual has one of two choices because they’re going to go into withdrawal so they have to go to getting prescription drugs on the street, which are very, very expensive. It’s about a dollar per milligram … or what you’ll see if they turn to heroin, which is a much more affordable option, but you don’t ever know what you’re going to get.”
Several people have overdosed and died on fentanyl, a drug sometimes sold as heroin, but much more potent.
The center offers a one-stop shop of counseling, medical and psychiatric services, involving the family in the treatment process from its inception. For more information, visit Coastal Recovery and New Journey at 1113 44th Ave. N., Myrtle Beach, online at https://www.coastalrecoverycenter.com/ or call 843-945-2531.