Myrtle Beach police chief Warren Gall told City Council members Tuesday that a proposal to keep people who’ve recently overdosed on opioids in jail would not be feasible for the city.
The idea originated from County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, who said Monday jail time could be mandatory for people who are brought back with overdose-reversal drug Narcan. Horry County has the most heroin-related overdose deaths in South Carolina.
Gall, by contrast, said Myrtle Beach Jail is not equipped for such detainees, because he said that overdose survivors require medical attention. The facility does not have the adequate medical personnel, he said.
“We are a 48-hour hold facility, that’s it,” Gall told The Sun News. “We are a temporary jail.”
The county proposal, by contrast, would place overdose survivors in jail for 72 hours, per Lazarus’s suggestion. Gall declined to comment to The Sun News on the efficacy of that proposal.
When Councilman Randal Wallace asked during the workshop if there was a program that would allow those who cannot afford rehabilitation to get help, Gall said there are state programs, but that the facilities often do not have vacancies.
“Psychologically or mentally,” Gall said, “it takes years to get off of it and it’s not as simple as just locking them in a room and saying, um, ‘you can’t have heroin’ or ‘you can’t have an opioid’ … .”
“… For 72 hours,” City Attorney Tom Ellenburg said.
“Yeah, for 72 — you’ve got — they’ve got to follow up with treatment,” Gall said.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said that prevention was most important in battling the widespread drug crisis, so that the problem is stopped before emergency responders are necessary.
“In the prevention mode, if you start at the high school level, you’re too late,” Jeffcoat said. “So the recommendation is that you start in middle school.”
City Manager John Pedersen said a new advisory committee composed of high school students and members of the local boys and girls club will begin discussing what prevention strategies may resonate with youth.
Another potential step, Gall said, is placing service providers from organizations that help drug abusers at bond hearings, so that they come in contact with people who have been detained. These people may not just be sent to hearings related to drug charges, he said, but also to hearings in other cases where the defendant may have a drug problem.
“(Service providers are) not in the position they can provide a (representative) at each bond hearing, at each court across the two counties,” Gall said, referring to Georgetown and Horry counties. “We’re going to continue to train our officers about being selective. Who do we feel, ahead of time, is willing or capable of proceeding with an offer of assistance and help?”
Gall also said several local first responder agencies plan to start handing out cards with a web address that would link drug abusers to different resources. The cards and website may be ready in October, he said.
While Myrtle Beach has seen a slight decline in overdoses as the city’s population decreases with the end of the tourism season, Gall said he did not expect the drop to continue significantly.
“The vast majority of our overdoses are more transient and locals than they are tourists,” Gall said. “We continue to have multiple overdoses throughout a week. We have had a few fatalities, again, throughout (the) month.”