South Carolina has a new tool to combat the proliferation of fentanyl – hopefully thwarting availability with the creation of a new felony offense and the classification of the synthetic opioid as a schedule I controlled substance.
“Trafficking in fentanyl” is now subject to increased penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for offenders thanks to legislation ceremonially signed by governor Henry McMaster earlier this week.
The bill, which actually took effect on June 15, 2023, makes it a felony to knowingly possess two grains of fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance. A first offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, a second offense is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $7,000 fine and a third or subsequent offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
If two grains seems like a miniscule amount, bear in mind the words of Janet Smoak who recently shared her story in an interview with FITSNews.
“Two milligrams of fentanyl can kill – one pill, one line – that can be it,” Smoak said.
Smoak’s 24-year-old son died of an accidental overdose in 2021 – an overdose that resulted from one pill. Where this dangerous drug is concerned, that is sadly not at all unusual. The synthetic drug was developed to treat the extreme pain of terminal cancer patients – with a potency 80 to 100 times higher than morphine.
“Through this legislation, we provide our law enforcement and prosecutors with valuable tools to keep these drug dealers behind bars, helping to combat the unprecedented flood of fentanyl crossing the Southern border and entering our communities,” McMaster said in a statement. “Going forward, we must continue to crack down on criminals within South Carolina by strengthening our bond reform bill and enhancing penalties for illegal gun possession, effectively closing the revolving door once and for all.”
It is a felony to knowingly sell, manufacture, cultivate, deliver, purchase or bring fentanyl into South Carolina. A first offense for trafficking four to 14 grams of fentanyl carries a minimum sentence of 7 years but can result in up to 25 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. A second offense carries a mandatory term of 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Trafficking 14 to 28 grams – even for a first offense – carries a mandatory term of 25 years in prison and a $200,000 fine.
The new fentanyl legislation also creates a felony firearm offense for drug dealers and consequences for offenders include up to five years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
From 2020 to 2021, drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased more than 35 percent in South Carolina, from 1,100 to 1,494 deaths, according to the annual statistical report on drug overdoses from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). During that time, fentanyl was involved in more than two-thirds of the state’s opioid-involved overdose deaths.
The problem is not confined to South Carolina, either, as these statistics are in keeping with national data.
Most fentanyl overdoses are accidental – meaning people consume fentanyl without realizing it, according to Sara Goldsby, director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS). This happens because a number of street drugs are laced with fentanyl and any exposure – even touching it – can have lethal consequences.
This news outlet has expended a lot of bandwidth covering America’s worsening fentanyl epidemic. We’ve also covered the deepening border crisis fueling that epidemic – and many of the personal tragedies it has foisted upon our communities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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