It’s easier to buy heroin than it is to buy cigarettes, according to Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson.
With local heroin use increasing to what officials call epidemic levels, county law enforcement contacted Coastal Carolina University President David DeCenzo to ask for help with developing a media campaign to raise awareness about the situation.
On behalf of local law enforcement and the Horry and Georgetown County Heroin Coalition, CCU’s video production team made 18 PSAs featuring recovering addicts, family members of addicts and county officials who speak from experience about the effects of the heroin crisis along the Grand Strand.
“I never thought I would put a needle in my arm, I remember my mom saying, ‘Krista, I hate that you’re going to die,’” said Krista Rosinski, a recovering heroin addict in one of the PSAs.
“The primary purpose is to create public awareness of our current heroin epidemic that we have going on,” Thompson said. “We want to get the word out to our community the seriousness of it and what’s involved. By doing the PSAs, it brings more awareness.”
Thompson says it’s important to show citizens the impacts heroin has had on users, their families, law enforcement and even medical professionals.
“Someone saw me at the gas station, and called my mom and told her I had track marks on my arm,” Maggi Hocker, another recovering heroin addict said in a PSA.
“When I heard it, I thought, ‘Now what? What do I do?’” Susan Metallo, Hocker’s mother said. “It was a long, dark, dark road for me. I felt like I failed as a parent.”
According to Thompson, 90 percent of all drug crimes in the county are heroin-related, a percentage that grew from less than 5 percent just five years ago.
“That’s why we use the word epidemic, because it just seems to not be getting any better,” he said. “Last year, we had a large number of deaths contributed to opiate and heroin overdose, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.”
He says there are two to three overdose deaths every week in Horry County.
“When you think about that many dying from that on a weekly basis, its serious,” Thompson added.
CCU Spokeswoman Martha Hunn developed a team of campus representatives and community leaders to build the projects. Students at the university conducted focus group research that involved interviewing people ranging in age from 14 to early 20s, along with parents and grandparents, according to Hunn.
“Our research made it clear that there were serious misperceptions in the community that needed to be addressed,” Hunn said in the release.
The focus group research found that the general public in the area is not fully aware of the severity of the heroin problem and the widespread use of it across all social and class lines.
“We always think of people who are in addiction as people who are homeless, and on the streets, not keeping a job, and not going to school,” Metallo said in an interview. “Well, [Maggi] was in college. And she was making good grades in the beginning, they did start to go down, but I didn’t see the subtle signs as soon as I would have I think if I had been more knowledgeable.”
Thompson says he hopes the PSAs will help give citizens a better understanding of the heroin epidemic and give others a chance to get help.
“If someone’s going through this with a family member, a coworker, a friend, then they’ll see by these PSAs that they’re not the only one,” he said.