Bill to address overdose deaths advances in SC Statehouse

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Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 1:22 AM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - South Carolina is seeing a big spike in deaths from overdoses.

Some lawmakers want to take extra steps to crack down on dealers.

South Carolina saw a 53 percent increase in fatal overdoses in 2020, while deaths tied to the synthetic opioid fentanyl jumped by 105 percent.

“The amount of overdoses that we are seeing is absolutely terrifying,” said Phoenix Center Director of Community-Based Programs Jessica Owens.

At the Phoenix Center in Greenville, they’re seeing a similar trend that’s happening across South Carolina and the nation with an increase in overdoses.

“They’re higher than they have ever been. We know that we have more folks who are seeking services with us right now,” said Owens.

The Addiction Treatment Center is seeing an increase in fentanyl as well.

In 2020, they gave out 1,468 Narcan, the opioid overdose treatment, to the community.

So far in 2022, that number is 808.

“When they first come in we do a drug screen with them and we do screen for fentanyl and how many folks are testing positive for fentanyl and they are just appalled and terrified saying I had no idea that I was using something with fentanyl in it,” explained Owens.

A bill in South Carolina could allow people who deal fentanyl, or fentanyl-related substances, that causes a deadly overdose to be charged with homicide and face a sentence of up to 30 years.

“We have a real opportunity in front of us now to add an additional deterrent to folks who want to deal these nefarious drugs that are taking our family members away from us,” said Former SC State Representative Eric Bedingfield.

Bedingfield tried to pass similar legislation in the past.

Drug Abuse Prevention has become a mission for him, after he lost his son Josh to a fentanyl overdose in 2016.

“This is not just a personal problem for people. This is a family problem, it’s a community problem, it’s a state problem, it’s a national problem,” he said.

In Cherokee County, Sheriff Steve Mueller says many of the drugs they see are laced with fentanyl.

He believes this new law could help get this drug off the streets.

“With the rise in fentanyl overdose deaths, that we could reach out from a law enforcement standpoint use this in our toolbox to hold those people accountable who causes someone else’s death,” said Sheriff Mueller.

The bill passed the Senate last week, and is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

Several states, including North Carolina and Tennessee, already have similar laws on the books.

Owens says though we can’t arrest our way out of the opioid crisis, treatment has to be a priority too.