State and local officials on Friday announced a $500,000 pilot program to help coordinate recovery services for opioid addicts.
The state funding will be managed by the city of Myrtle Beach and the nonprofit New Directions with the help of an advisory board.
“The heroin and opioid crisis has taken a tremendous toll on our community,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said. “Sadly, too many lives have been lost and too many families have suffered financial and emotional devastation.”
Officials have not determined exactly how the money will be used, but they said the goal is for the funding to kickstart an organized effort that brings together recovery centers, medical professionals, peer support specialists, law enforcement and prosecutors to help addicts get onto the path to recovery.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said Bethune approached him months ago about an opioid treatment plan that had been compiled with input from multiple jurisdictions. He thought that plan could be a model for treatment throughout the state.
“Those services could be coordinated for those that find themselves in the hell of opioid addiction,” he said. “It is a terrible epidemic that has run rampant throughout society. Thank God for those individuals and organizations that are providing that assistance to try to help folks escape that hell.”
Clemmons said Bethune went to Columbia with him to help explain the need for state dollars. Ultimately, funding was included in the state budget for the program.
“I’m excited to have been a part of that,” Clemmons said. “And it really demonstrates how working together we can get amazing things accomplished here in Myrtle Beach, in Horry County and throughout South Carolina.”
Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said the study Clemmons mentioned highlighted the many groups working to address opioid addiction locally.
“We’ve all got stories,” he said. “We’ve all got family members or people that have fallen to this addiction. Some of them are still with us. Some of them have passed on. But the whole idea here is to take advantage of private and public funding from [groups] already doing the work and consolidate them to find one spot that we can best target this addiction.”
Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock stressed that addressing the opioid crisis isn’t strictly the purview of law enforcement.
“We can’t arrest our way out of it,” she said. “We have to have a joint effort focused on recovery and understanding.”
While state and local officials expressed optimism about the new funding for the program, they could provide few details about how the money will actually be spent. They stressed the fledgling program will take off soon in Horry and Georgetown counties and they have already begun discussing possible candidates for the program's advisory board, though they didn’t say who would fill those seats.
Bethune said New Directions was chosen to help manage the money because of its existing ties to the city. For years, the nonprofit has focused primarily on homelessness, though they have addressed other issues as well.
“New Directions is already established, so it just made sense to partner with them in this effort,” Bethune said. “The board that we set up will actually measure results. They will monitor and oversee the funds and make sure they are properly used.”
State Rep. Russell Fry, R-Surfside Beach, said all levels of government must be involved in this crisis.
“It needs to be all hands on deck,” said Fry, who has led an opioid study committee in the House.
Fry said overdoses are up nearly 40% from the same period last year, and the use of Narcan, an overdose treatment drug, is up 32%.
“That is an alarming figure that we need to be careful of,” he said, nothing that amid COVID-19 there has been increased isolation, job loss and other stressors.
Prock said securing the funding is simply the initial part of this process.
“This is a first step,” she said. “We still need to continue to work really hard to make a difference. … We are starting here, but we’re not finished. We’re going to keep going.”