Many opposed to Horry County chairman’s proposal to jail overdose victims

Many opposed to Horry County chairman’s proposal to jail overdose victims

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – After Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus proposed adding consequences for people after they are revived with Narcan to stop them from continuing to overdose, one local woman decided to start a petition.

"When it comes to an addict, they don't even see the consequence," said DeAnna Douglas-Jackson. "It's not even in their mind because they're so wanting to get that next fix."

She said she knows addiction all too well because she used to be an alcoholic. Eventually, she got herself help by joining a 12-step program.

Douglas-Jackson said jail would not have stopped her from drinking at the time when she was addicted to alcohol. While she said she doesn't understand heroin addiction fully because she has never done drugs, she expects jail won't break that cycle of addiction.

"I know people who have been to jail for this same exact problem and they've gotten out and they've went right back to the old behavior," she said.

Douglas-Jackson created an online petition because she said she thinks overdose victims need to be directed to treatment, not a jail cell.

The petition can be found here.

"I don't think J. Reuben Long is the place to give that medical attention and that counseling," she said.

Douglas-Jackson said she'd like to see some sort of program or procedures put in place to enact treatment for overdose victims.

"It's just they're going at it the wrong way," she said. "I think they're sick and tired of it, but we as a community need to come together."

Jim Bennett is an addiction counselor. He said jail sometimes helps certain people stop using, but it is a tough place to break the addiction cycle.

"You put them in jail for 72 hours, you must then offer them something because 72 hours is going to do nothing but send them into withdrawals and they're going to get angry and they're going to go out and possibly overdose again," he said.

Bennett said treatment is a year to two-year-long process.

"First, you have to get them willing to get help for themselves and get that help," Bennett said. "And I think six months to a year in a sober living home works and then you get them rehabbed to actually be productive citizens of the world."

Horry County Fire Rescue Capt. Patrick Ellis said he does think something needs to be done as the heroin epidemic continues. He added Narcan was administered 768 times from Jan. 1 through Sept. 26.

"It's getting out of hand," he said.

Two years ago, HCFR used Narcan only a few dozen times, according to Ellis.

"To jump easily 400 percent, if not more, within a year is astronomical," Ellis said.

He added Narcan does not come out unless the victim's condition is serious.

"Which is scary in the sense that we've had 768 doses of people that we considered very bad off, that should show the community how serious this issue is," he said.

Ellis said crews are called to victims everywhere.

"We're not seeing what we consider the classic heroin overdose," he said. "We're picking them up unresponsive in gas stations, inside their Mercedes Benz in the yard."

He also said some of the overdose victims are repeat offenders.

"I have seen probably three or four of the same and I'm not on the street all the time," he said.

When paramedics show up, sometimes evidence of drug use will still be around, according to Ellis.

"Ninety percent of the time you will see the needles," he said. "If it's mixed with some of this stuff, what we're seeing is they're not even giving half of what they're taking and they're already deceased. We're able to see the needle still in the person's arm."

Police will accompany the ambulance to the hospital and handle any criminal side of the situation, but the paramedics cannot control the number of Narcan administrations they're doing.

"Our job is not to judge them," Ellis said. "It's to fix them, keep them alive. Hopefully (we can) save them and hopefully everything works out for the best."

Criminal Defense Attorney Jonny McCoy said he thinks putting overdose victims in jail for 72 hours violates their right to due process and also punishes them for their disease instead of treating them.

He said from what he can tell, it's not illegal to overdose; it's illegal to possess and sell heroin, to drive and be in public acting disorderly.

However, McCoy said without having any evidence of possession, he doesn't think people can be locked up in jail for 72 hours.

He said it's completely unconstitutional, but it could be possible to propose holding overdose victims in a hospital for 72 hours under the care of doctors.

Lt. Sherri Smith, of the Horry County Sheriff's Office, said the jail has a full-time medical staff and protocols in place to treat detox.

"Any overdose subject would first have to be cleared by a medical doctor prior to be admitted to the facility," Smith said. "Any person admitted to the facility must have a criminal charge or civil order, must be booked and have a warrant served with 24 hours and then a bond or civil hearing at the next scheduled time."

As for probably cause, Smith said the act of overdosing alone isn't probably cause to detain a person. She said this would require a change in state legislation and the South Carolina Department of Corrections would have to adjust its minimum standards.

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