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South Carolina--nicknamed "The Palmetto State" for its many stately palmetto palm trees that decorate the landscape--enjoys a relatively mild climate with moderate winter temperatures and plenty of sunshine throughout the year. But a dark cloud, far more destructive than any hurricane, looms large on the South Carolina horizon.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. For South Carolina—which has always grappled with a large amount of poverty--the circumstances are particularly challenging. In 2019, South Carolina had 15.3% of its population living below the poverty line, and in 2016 had 879 overdose deaths-an increase of 15% from the previous year.
Given South Carolina's poverty rate and high addiction statistics, it would be easy to think that being poor causes addiction. But, when we look at the relationship between addiction and poverty, we quickly realize that it's a bit more complicated.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that poverty causes addiction, per se. In fact in some cases, financial troubles are the direct result of a substance use disorder.
Poverty does increase stress, and stress is well recognized as a factor for substance abuse and relapse. When you're struggling, there's a great temptation to turn to substances that make you feel good, like drugs and alcohol. Poverty also increases feelings of hopelessness and decreases self-esteem, which can leave some people more vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders. But, addiction can cause people to slip into poverty too. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through South Carolina like a wildfire, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In 2016, South Carolina reported 628 opioid-related overdose deaths, and that number is thought to be artificially low. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's an addiction that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2015, South Carolina had 4.5 million opioid prescriptions dispensed by providers—a shocking number.
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) In South Carolina heroin deaths have trended up since 2014 with 183 (a rate of 3.8) reported in 2018.
The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents. From 2017-2018, deaths in South Carolina involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl and fentanyl analogs) continued to rise from 404 (a rate of 8.5) to 510 (a rate of 10.8.)
A 2010 study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by South Carolina youth, and the numbers are concerning:
35% of South Carolina high school students report they've used marijuana in their lifetime.
6% of high school students report they've used cocaine (in any form.)
4% of South Carolina young people (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor.
The good news for South Carolinians struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Palmetto State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
South Carolina State Facts
South Carolina Population: 4,011,615
Law Enforcement Officers in South Carolina: 9,510
South Carolina Prison Population: 32,800
South Carolina Probation Population: 44,399
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 1
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in South Carolina
Cocaine: 313.1 kgs.
Heroin: 3.1 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 4.2 kgs.
Marijuana: 132.0 kgs.
Ecstasy: 33 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 116 (DEA, state, and local)
South Carolina Drug Situation: South Carolina is identified more as a drug "consumer state" rather than a "source state." However, there has been increasing evidence of organizational activity extending to major distribution hubs, such as New York City (cocaine and heroin), southern Florida (cocaine and Ecstasy (MDMA)), southern Texas/Mexico (marijuana, methamphetamine and diverted/illicit drugs), and southern California (methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine). Investigations are becoming more complex and cross numerous statewide and nationwide jurisdictions. Additionally, Mexican-based traffickers have taken advantage of the increase in Latino immigration to the state by hiding within Hispanic enclaves. Statewide based on the last census Hispanics are the fastest growing racial group in South Carolina. Aside from Hispanics recent investigations have targeted Cuban, Haitian and Jamaican traffickers.
The history of investigations conducted by the Charleston RO reveals that a significant portion of the cocaine and marijuana distributed by coastal South Carolina distribution organizations originated from Charleston port smuggling activities. It is a well-known fact that traffickers utilize forty-foot and twenty-foot containers to transport contraband secreted inside these containers with legitimate commercial products. It is a conservative estimate that for every container loaded with illegal drugs discovered at the Charleston port, at least nine other containers with illegal drugs have slipped through without detection. The port of Charleston is the second largest containerized seaport on the eastern seaboard of the United States and handles over 1.5 million containers of the over 11 million containers that enter or pass through U.S. ports per year. Currently there are three terminals; however, a fourth may be opened in the near future. Despite this intimidating volume of containers, the USCS has only 10 inspectors to service the inspection requirements in three Charleston port facilities and they must rely on Confidential Source information and container profiling to maximize their chances of success. These 10 Customs Inspectors are only able to actually inspect less than 1 % of the containers destined to or passing through Charleston. Recent investigations have shown that there are numerous "cells" of traffickers working at the port with or as longshoremen to bring cocaine, marijuana and heroin into the United States from overseas (Panama, Colombia, etc.).
Cocaine in South Carolina: Cocaine trafficking has been detected at stable to moderately increased levels in the major metropolitan areas of the state, to include the population centers of Columbia, Greenville, and Florence. An increase in trafficking has also been noted in recent years along the coast, particularly in the tourist areas of Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Sources of supply are located in South Florida, New York, Georgia and California, with the most common method of importation being motor vehicle. Other less common methods of transport of drugs into the state include courier services, commercial airline, bus, and train travel. At the retail level, trafficking groups appear to be moderately sized and loosely organized. Cocaine is often transported into the state in powder form and converted into crack cocaine by local distributors at its destination. During 2003 and 2004 DEA offices statewide placed significant attention on the development of cases targeting high level trafficking groups. Title III investigations during 2003, resulted in the dismantling of a large cocaine trafficking organization operating in Columbia, SC. A total of 17 arrests were made in connection with the investigation.
Heroin in South Carolina: Heroin is available in multi-gram quantities throughout South Carolina and is routinely packaged in "bindles" for distribution. The most common source location for heroin distributed in South Carolina is the New York City area. Heroin supply sources use a variety of methods, including mail service and public transportation, to transport heroin into South Carolina. Although the heroin user population has historically been a limited and stable group generally located in the inner cities, recent information indicates an increasing pattern of heroin use by a younger population in "experimental" or "party" situations.
Methamphetamine in South Carolina: While methamphetamine is available across South Carolina, investigations indicate that there is a growing abuse and availability of the drug in the coastal population centers of the state, particularly in the Myrtle Beach area. Methamphetamine distributed in the state is normally obtained from supply sources in California, and in some cases, from Atlanta. The number of clandestine laboratory seizures in South Carolina continues to increase.
Club Drugs in South Carolina: Ecstasy (MDMA) is readily available in several cities in South Carolina, predominantly in the population centers of Greenville and Columbia and those cities along the state’s coastal area. During the past year there has been a significant increase in Ecstasy distribution throughout the state, with traffickers operating out of the state capitol in Columbia distributing a significant portion of the Ecstasy sold. Recent data indicates that Atlanta has become a significant hub for MDMA distribution in South Carolina. Law Enforcement agencies are attempting to infiltrate organizations distributing Ecstasy, but are hampered by the cost of Ecstasy currently available on the street. There have been increasing incidents of LSD distribution and abuse, as well as incidents of Rohypnol and Ketamine appearing in entertainment clubs in communities along the coast and upstate.
Marijuana in South Carolina: Marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug of abuse in South Carolina, with Mexico the most common source location. Traffickers using vehicles, tractor-trailers, commercial air, buses, and trains, as well as commercial package shipping companies import marijuana from Mexico through California. Members of the South Carolina National Guard and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) routinely eradicate small patches of outdoor marijuana. In 2002, SLED discovered and destroyed 27,013 plants in South Carolina. In 2003 another 15,038 plants were destroyed.
Other Drugs in South Carolina: Ecstasy is readily available in several cities in South Carolina, predominantly those cities along the state's coastal area. Recent intelligence indicates that traffickers operating out of the state capital at Columbia distribute a significant portion of the Ecstasy sold throughout the state.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been six MET deployments in the State of South Carolina since the inception of the program: Greenville, Dillon, North Charleston, Orangeburg, and Spartanburg (2).
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of South Carolina.