April 21, 2022Published Article

Need for prevention in opioid epidemic grows, leaders say

As the opioid epidemic continues, the battle shifts.

Leaders on the local and national levels attended a roundtable Thursday afternoon hosted by U.S. Rep. William Timmons.

The roundtable included law enforcement, Upstate treatment and prevention centers, a representative from NarcX and a former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“As far as using, our earliest we’re seeing is 11 to 12,” Phoenix Center Outpatient Services Director Michael McLain said.

McLain says statistics show four out of five heroin users started with prescription pain medication.

Leaders say fentanyl is still a driving factor in a number of overdoses nationwide.

“We see about 80 people a month who come through our doors for detox, and at least 30% or 40% of those are for opioids," McLain said. "We are seeing people come in specifically for fentanyl.”

Leaders on the local and national levels discussed the shift in tackling the opioid epidemic. They say the tactics have shifted from enforcement to prevention, to both.

Now, they say it's a three-pronged approach.

“Making sure we’re getting more prevention messaging in our schools, that we’re making treatment available and affordable for everyone, regardless of the financial situation, but also we support our law enforcement,” former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll said.

In terms of treatment in South Carolina, McLain says there's an extreme need for bed space in treatment centers. He says people are often left sitting in a jail cell waiting for space to open up.

“Staying in the detention center, taking up a bed for that issue is probably not the best use of our resources,” McLain said.

The focus now is also largely on prevention and education.

“We entered this year working with eighth graders," RIZE Prevention CEO Martine Helou said. "The amount of addiction and drug use in middle schools will terrify you.”

Helou says they'll soon start working with children as young an sixth grade, because there's easier access to drugs and it's become more normalized.

She says a lot of prevention also starts at home with strong relationships between children and their parents or caregivers.

The Spartanburg police chief and Greenville County Sheriff's Office were also at the roundtable.

They say every officer has Narcan on them, emphasizing how important their role is in saving lives on the frontlines.

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