Horry County communities, like too many others across the United States, have serious, growing drug abuse problems that have the attention of many concerned people, residents and public officials. The abuse of drugs – illegal ones on the streets and properly-prescribed medications – remains a major concern affecting all socio-economic levels of life.
The horrific extent of the problem is illustrated by the increased use of Narcon by Horry County emergency personnel. A nasal spray, Narcon resuscitates people who have overdosed on heroin and other narcotics. In a meeting with The Sun News Editorial Board, Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus reiterated the fact pointed out in a County Council Public Safety Committee: Since January 2016, county medical response teams have administered Narcon 800 times.
A most serious aspect, in Lazarus’ view, is the number of school age children trying street drugs – sometimes resulting in their deaths. Street crime increases as abusers steal from neighbors, perhaps their own family members, to buy the drugs to feed their addiction. Young women turn to prostitution.
“We’ve got to do something. The ultimate goal is to get them off drugs so they can be [productive members of society]. It’s a war we’ve got to fight.” Combating drugs is far more complicated than once thought. “Just say `No’ ” clearly did not work. That was the expression promoted by the late Nancy Reagan when she was first lady.
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“I started the conversation,” Lazarus says, alluding to his request of county legal and law enforcement officials to look into setting up a mandated 72-hour holding period in jail. That came during a September meeting of the Public Safety Committee, when Lazarus expressed concern about there being “... no consequences for those people that are overdosing on this, and we’re just putting them right back on the street.” Sometimes, the same person, or another in the same group, have been treated (resuscitated with Narcon) again in a matter of hours.
Having consequences for violating drug laws is not attacking the problem. Reacting to requiring 72 hours in jail, Dr. David Tonkin of a pain management clinic pointed out that “... two thirds of the people who overdose on opioids are actually overdosing on legitimate prescriptions from physicians.” Tonkin speaks across the country about the gateway aspect of prescription painkillers – how they have fueled a heroin epidemic.
Lazarus acknowledges that “just putting people in jail won’t solve the problem,” and that the issue requires much more than the expertise of law enforcement officials. Progress requires input from medical doctors such as Tonkin, as well as those with experience in rehabilitation. There are legal and educational ramifications. Members of the Horry County legislative delegation should be involved.
A conversation has already begun, which means forward movement on this critical issue needs to be attacked with thoughtful urgency. The typical pace of county government will not be enough to tackle this problem effectively.