Drug users who overdose on narcotics would face jail time and mandatory treatment for substance abuse under new legal action proposed Monday by County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.
Lazarus asked the county legal team, police and sheriff’s office to determine what laws need to be passed to mandate a 72-hour holding period in jail, citing the growing number of heroin use and repeat overdoses emergency officials are experiencing.
“There’s no consequences for those people that are overdosing on this, and we’re just putting them right back out in the street,” Lazarus said during the council’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
“We’ve even had incidents where, 10 or 11 hours later, we’ve gone back and (treated) the same person again or the person in their party,” Lazarus said.
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County emergency personnel are equipped with Narcon, a nasal spray that resuscitates victims who have overdosed on heroin and other narcotics, and say current projections predict Narcon will be used more than 1,000 times this year.
Asked why overdose victims are not arrested for drug use after they are treated, Lazarus said the evidence is usually gone when police and medics arrive.
A new law would not dissuade victims from calling for medical help, because they’re unconscious and it’s usually a second-party who calls for help, Lazarus said.
If the drug user is charged and taken to jail, there is also the opportunity to get the person counseling to help them get off drugs, either through a new jail program, or mandated by the court.
“If they have to see a judge, a judge could mandate they go through a program,” Lazarus said. “Hopefully, we can get people into a program and get them saved, that would be the ultimate goal — is to be able to save these people from themselves and from the drug.”
There is space available in a separate wing of the J. Reuben Long Detention Center, and Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson said he will look into the legal options.
“It’s a tremendous issue that we’re all facing, and everyone’s concerned,” Thompson said. “So, whatever we can do to help, obviously, we want to.”
The rising number of overdosing is not just a problem with regular drug users who are county residents, but an influx of tourists, Lazarus said.
Teenagers are also experimenting with drugs with disastrous results, showing a greater need to address the problem at the street level, as well as putting the dealers and manufacturers behind bars, Lazarus said.
“The sad thing about it, is a lot of these people are not drug addicts,” Lazarus said. “We’ve had a handful of kids who just happen to be at a party, and decide to try it for the first time. If it wasn’t available, it wouldn’t happen.”