Alison Dore moved away from the life in which she surrounded herself with users of heroin in Florida to Calabash, N.C., to her mother’s home as a way to escape addiction.
But it didn’t take much more than a week for the 21-year-old, with no car, no money and no means of transportation, to find heroin in the Myrtle Beach area.
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Heroin is a nationwide, statewide and region-wide epidemic.
There were 61 arrests for first-offense possession of heroin in 2010 in the 15th Judicial Circuit, which includes Horry and Georgetown counties. That number grew to 170 in 2015.
Simple possession to trafficking of heroin also grew during that time frame, from 249 in 2010 to 546 in 2015,
A little over 10 years ago, the Mexican cartel saw that our nation was being overprescribed opiates, and so it stepped in with a more affordable alternative in heroin, said Jimmy Richardson, solicitor for the 15th Judicial Circuit. Even now, pain killers like oxycodone sells in the black market for $1 per milligram.
“So a 90-milligram pill is 90 bucks,” Richardson said. “No one can support that type of habit. Heroin is a much cheaper alternative and it is an opiate.”
Real lives of heroin
Alison Dore’s mother, Barbara Shafer, believes her daughter was sexually assaulted in high school and as a way to cope with it, Dore began taking Xanax, a pill for anxiety and panic disorders.
“Her whole motivation was to numb that trauma,” Shafer said. “Numb the pain. That’s my opinion.”
Shafer said she believes the use of Xanax coupled with the group of people her daughter was hanging out with led to heroin use.
“She was living with a bunch of kids and it was trouble from the beginning when she was down there,” Shafer said. “They would get kicked out of one apartment and end up having to go to another. It ended up being one huge party. All of the sudden, her grades started going out the window. She wasn’t even going to class... it went downhill fast.”
Dore’s drug of choice was Xanax. She’d have them with her or had just taken them, and anytime she would get pulled over in Florida, she would get out of it because her uncle was a police officer, Shafer said.
“The signs were there that this was becoming an issue,” Shafer said. “She didn’t think she had a problem, so there’s not too much you can do for someone who doesn’t want help.”
That was until December 2013 when Dore came to her mother’s home around the holidays looking sick. Dore agreed to go to Urgent Care with her mother.
“She’s laying on the gurney, and you can see the track marks on her arm,” Shafer said. “I hadn’t noticed them yet, but I know the doctor did. And the doctor said the flu test is negative. She doesn’t have the flu... She said if the fever doesn’t go away, I highly recommend you take her to the ER.”
When she took Dore to the emergency room, blood tests revealed she had MRSA, a bacteria responsible for infections, which had gotten to her heart and infected her aorta valve. Open heart surgery was needed to fix the valve, but nothing could be done until MRSA was gone.
After rounds of antibiotics, Dore was able to have open heart surgery, which she came out of well.
The weeks following, she told her mother she was going to support meetings, which Shafer now thinks she was going out to get high instead.
It might have been 60 days after she had open heart surgery that she was using again.
Barbara Shafer on her daughter, Alison Dore
“It might have been 60 days after she had open heart surgery that she was using again,” Shafer said.
Shafer had done everything she could think of to try and get Dore off the drug. What moved Shafer to insist Dore go to rehab was when Dore began stealing fentanyl prescribed to a family member, which enhances the high of heroin.
Dore went to rehab in Georgia for 90 days, which Shafer said seemed to be working well until Dore came home. She began using again.
A family member who owned a home in the Calabash area had died, so Shafer suggested that Dore move there with her to start new. She agreed and within a week, found heroin in Myrtle Beach.
It was worse than it have ever been. She was using it in the house at this point. She didn’t care who was around or that I was there. She used to at least hide it. She wasn’t even trying to hide it anymore.
“It was worse than it have ever been,” Shafer said. “She was using it in the house at this point. She didn’t care who was around or that I was there. She used to at least hide it. She wasn’t even trying to hide it anymore.”
Shafer recalled the night she kicked her daughter out of the house. Needles and other paraphernalia used to shoot heroin was laid out on her bed as Dore was outside smoking a cigarette.
“I about lost my mind,” Shafer said. “I picked it all up, brought it to my room and just waited for her to go nuts. And she did. She came into my room asking where is her stuff... And then she started wrecking the house.”
Shafer had enough. She told Dore to get out by the next morning.
“She wrote me a note that night as to how bad she felt,” Shafer said holding back tears. “She said, ‘I’m sorry I’m doing this to you.’ She said ‘you don’t deserve it,’ and she said ‘I’ll leave.’”
She wrote me a note that night as to how bad she felt. She said, ‘I’m sorry I’m doing this to you.’ She said ‘you don’t deserve it,’ and she said ‘I’ll leave.’
Barbara Shafer on her daughter, Alison Dore
Dore left, and began living by the beach in the off season. She spent one weekat a property near the beach when she contacted her mother and asked for help finding a rehabilitation center. She went to rehab for 30 days and was living in a sober living house, when she started having pain in her legs.
Doctors found a blood clot in her leg. She went into surgery, and the doctors realized her heart valve was infected again. As they were performing tests to find out where the heart was leaking, Dore passed away. She never made it to her next open heart surgery.
“Your heart can only take so much,” Shafer said.
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Josh Paugh grew up on a farm in West Virginia and never really was exposed to drug use.
As he grew older, he fought full contact mixed martial arts and after a back injury in 2010, a doctor put him on pain killers. After his doctor cut him off, it led to buying pain killers on the street. When that got too expensive, it was on to heroin.
“Never before did I ever think I would be addicted to something,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s that quick.”
I was just a terrible person. I used my family, manipulated everyone. Then I lost some of my best friends to it and watched them die. Now if there’s anyway I can help people or show them that there is hope out there still, I’ll do whatever I can.
Josh Paugh, recovering addict
“I was just a terrible person,” Paugh said. “I used my family, manipulated everyone. Then I lost some of my best friends to it and watched them die. Now if there’s anyway I can help people or show them that there is hope out there still, I’ll do whatever I can.”
Paugh can relate to Dore’s story and the way that “If I wanted drugs, I was going to find them,” he said.
He moved to Myrtle Beach and was making upwards of $2,000 per week selling timeshares.
Luckily I lost it because the job would have killed me. I had too much m money to spend on drugs.
“Luckily I lost it because the job would have killed me,” Paugh said. “I had too much money to spend on drugs... The career would have been amazing if I was clean, but it was going to kill me if I didn’t lose that job.”
Paugh said sometimes he would spend $400-$500 per day on heroin.
One day, Paugh had a friend visiting the area and the two rented Mo-peds one weekend. Paugh was struck by a driver, who fled the scene, and left him in a coma for 18 hours.
“I woke up and I saw my family sitting around the bed,” Paugh said of June 6, 2013 — the day he got clean. “I lost all hearing in my left ear, got a plate and screws for my left shoulder collar bone... but when I looked at my family and saw them crying, that was the day it actually hit me,” Paugh said. “This is what they went through every night. Every night that they couldn’t go to sleep and they constantly wondered if I was going to be alive the next day.”
Paugh was then faced with the doctor who said he would need pain medication to start recuperating from the crash, and that’s when Paugh started recovery from opiates.
“I told him I wasn’t going to take any pain medications other than ibuprofen and Tylenol,” Paugh said. “I started working a 12-step program. With me, it’s been honesty that’s kept me clean. Not honesty with other people, honesty with myself. If I lie to myself and tell myself I don’t need the program, I don’t need to keep working these steps and I’ll be fine, then it can tick back up.”
Paugh said a lot of where he got the drug is in the “tourist attraction” area of the beach.
“You have your drug dealers staying the cheap hotels and fill the hotel rooms that they can’t fill,” Paugh said. “Honestly, when I got drugs here, it was right on the beach.”
Fighting the epidemic
When 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson started prosecuting cases in 1998, there was no heroin.
“It was basically for Horry or Georgetown County is crack or cocaine,” Richardson said. “In the year 2016, there’s very little crack and cocaine. It’s all heroin.”
Possible Legislation Narcan is a heroin reversal drug that first responders carry with them. However, people like Shafer would also like police to carry the shot because they are often on the scene of an overdose first.
And it’s at a serious dosage.
“We were seeing, through the coroner’s office, not quite two overdoses a week,” Richardson said. “That was earlier this year. We’ve made a couple of huge arrests recently. And since those arrests, we’ve had maybe one overdose. So it has gone way, way, way down.”
Richardson said the area is not in the clear just because of the arrests, however.
“This area is a hub,” Richardson said. “You are seeing the purity of heroin at about somewhere between 80 and 90 percent, which means it’s about as pure as it can be... If we were not [a distribution center], we would not see such pure heroin.”
Richardson said according to his office’s surveillance, the heroin is coming from Mexico to the New York/New Jersey area and then to Horry and Georgetown counties. It’s not being altered — or “stepped on” — Richardson said.
So his office’s approach is to attack the problem at a young age — mainly fifth and seventh graders — and convince those students to have their parents clean out the medicine cabinets of expired pills and bring them to the nearest police station.
“For the better part of 30 years, we’ve used the prison to clean up the problem,” Richardson said. “It’s more than just that... I think it’s one thing to really punish the drug traffickers, really catch them and punish them... but in addition, parents need to be monitoring what drugs are in their medicine cabinets.”
911 Good Samaritan Law A law where if you are with someone who is overdosing, you can call 911 and police will come help without anyone worrying about being prosecuted.
According to statistics from Drug Court in the 15th Judicial Circuit, about 80 percent of heroin and prescription pain medicine addicts started by getting the pills from a family members’ medicine cabinet.
“Ultimately we have got to cut down on this over prescription that’s leading to the heroin use,” Richardson said.
Casey King, a Physics professor at Horry Georgetown Technical College, is the founder of the annual Addiction and Recovery Series. The series brings notable celebrities like Louis Gossett Jr. and Meredith Baxter, to the area to offer testimonials on addiction and recovery. The series also features local recovering addicts and their recovery support system like family and friends, to help raise awareness of addiction.
He posts fliers throughout campus, mostly in the restrooms, inviting people with addiction to the series with a goal of changing the stigma of addiction to show those recovering can become productive members of society.
“The fact that this year I got more students in recovery from heroin says that the greater number of people walking into the bathroom in recovery from heroin appears to be a little greater than normal,” King said.
This area overall, King said, is “very, very strong in recovery.”
“You may not know it unless you’re in recovery yourself or active in the recovery process,” King said.
There are two in-patient facilities in Horry County — Lighthouse Care Center of Conway and Shoreline Behavioral Health Services.
Heather Partridge, coordinator of outpatient services, said Shoreline has seen an increase in people seeking help for heroin use.
“Unfortunately as a result of the heroin use we have also seen an increase of children being removed from their homes due to their parent's substance use disorder,” Partridge said. “... Some of the heroin on the streets in this county is being laced with fentanyl, which is more potent than heroin. The good news is several of these people are reaching out for help. It is important we continue to break down the barriers that prevent people from getting help.”
Partridge said the pain pills to withdrawals to heroin use is a “vicious cycle” that sometimes can impact pregnant women, as well.
“Many mothers are referred to us through the Department of Social Services due to substance use during their third trimester of pregnancy, testing positive for an illicit substance when they give birth or their newborn babies testing positive,” Partridge said. “Many pregnant women worry about seeking help for their substance use disorder in fear that they will lose custody of their child or be arrested, the reality is that if they seek help as soon as they find out they are pregnant it doesn't have to end that way. You don't need to hit rock bottom to get help.”
Alison Dore died in January 2015, her cousin died three months later and another cousin is rehab.
“It presents itself everywhere I look,” Shafer said. “I’m not even looking for it and it’s right in front of me.”
Now Shafer takes any opportunity she can get to speak about heroin and addiction.
“You need to not have the shame that people put on you because your child was a heroin addict,” Shafer said. “They all look at you kind of funny like, ‘Wow, what did you do wrong?’
“Guess what? It wasn’t my fault. I know it wasn’t. You can think whatever you want. It was not my fault. It was not my plan. I tried everything in my power to help her get out of it, and it didn’t work. So, I do kind of believe that that’s what I’m here to do now, is carry this through.”
Where to get help
Shoreline Behavioral Health Services
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Lighthouse Care Center of Conway