As overdose deaths rise in Horry County, coroner says gangs playing big role in drug use

Grand Strand

CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — Drug overdose deaths in Horry County have nearly doubled during the past three months, according to Coroner Robert Edge.

Horry County Police told News13 the department is aware of the epidemic and is working with other agencies to find a solution. It’s a lethal trend that officials say could continue to rise unless the community gets more involved.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, the United States has reached a record high for drug overdose deaths within 12 months. The agency reports over 96,000 people have died from drug overdoses between March 2020 and March 2021.

Edge said he started noticing the issue about 10 years ago.

“These things just kinda slipped into town overnight, and we found out we had some pain clinics in town and we were experiencing a lot of drug overdose,” Edge said.

Those clinics were eventually shut down, Edge said. However, drug use picked up again about four years ago, he said, adding that when he first started most deaths were from medical issues, car accidents and one or two homicides a year.

Today, many deaths trace back to drug use.

“Mainly fentanyl is the top one,” he said. “Some heroin, some cocaine, and some methadone.”

Narcan is used to treat overdoses from these drugs, and Horry County Fire Rescue has continued to administer the drug over the past three years. More than 1,200 doses have been given so far this year to 932 patients.

Edge said he thinks most drug use is gang-related, but for Nicole Criss addiction started in 2009 after two back surgeries.

“If it wasn’t for knowing what my brother went through being a heroin addict, I probably would have transitioned over to heroin,” Criss said.

Instead, she asked for help, and ever since she’s been helping others battling addiction through Favor Grand Strand.

“At Favor Grand Strand, we offer peer lead support services,” Criss said. “Because we know that peers who have lived experience in substance use disorder and in recovery are often the ones who have the best chance of reaching someone who is of active addiction.”

Criss said she hopes Narcan can become even more accessible to help save lives, but Edge thinks that will do more harm than good.

“I think the Narcan has helped some, but I also think that Narcan has made people to be a little more trustworthy that someone will come to rescue with some Narcan, and lots of times they do, and sometimes they don’t get to them in time.”

Horry County Police said it’s is addressing the epidemic through monthlong task force investigations. However, Edge said a lack of participation from the community has made it difficult to get a handle on the issue.

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