(WSPA) – It’s both a legal issue and moral dilemma. Upstate addicts may be forced to decide between the life of a friend and their own freedom. It’s a decision people aren’t forced to make anywhere else in the Southeast.
“One person very close to me, we were both shooting and I had already done mine,” said an Upstate recovering addict who asked to be called “Randy”.
Randy isn’t his real name but he chose it to honor a relative who died from a drug overdose.
“I told her to be careful not to do as much as I did. Two minutes later I heard a thud in the bathroom. I broke the door down. She was on the floor. I didn’t want to believe that she was overdosed. ”
That is one of several stories Randy shared about the life or death moments faced by thousands of Upstate heroin addicts. Save a life and go to jail or hope for the best and stay free.
Heroin addicts like Randy have become so common in South Carolina the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the drug an epidemic.
The statistics are staggering. The most recent CDC numbers show nearly 50,000 Americans died from drug overdose in 2014. That means more people died from OD than from all the car crashes and homicides combined.
Heroin accounted for more than 10,000 of those deaths.
In the Upstate, the numbers are equally alarming. In Greenville County alone 106 people died from overdose in 2015. That’s up 23% from the previous year.
Numbers compiled by 7 News show someone in the Upstate died from a drug overdose every 36 hours.
“There are good people who are having their lives destroyed and good people out there who are dying,” Randy said.
Like most addicts, Randy knew he was breaking the law when he used heroin. He’s now been clean for more than 100 days with the help of group therapy at the Phoenix Center in Greenville. Like most addicts, Randy’s life can be turned around as long as the heroin doesn’t kill him first.
Luckily there is a drug now available that appears to reverse the effects of opiod overdose, including heroin. It’s called “naloxone” and first responders use it under the brand name “Narcan”.
Asheville firefighters like David House carry it with them when they respond to overdose calls. He said he’s seen the antidote save lives.
“Often times with these overdoses, we arrive on scene and they’re already unconscious they’re not responsive to us and we’ll notice their pulse increasing and most visibly, their breathing, they’ll stop breathing to the point they’re turning blue,” House said.
“I’ve been in drug houses before where people were on the floor like after doing a shot and just…they didn’t look like…they looked like they were going to die…and nobody was really doing anything,” said Randy.
House said every second counts when responding to an overdose call.
That’s why North Carolina and Georgia, passed “Good Samaritan” laws. They encourage anyone to call 9-1-1 and get help for someone who is overdosing. The law guarantees the caller and the overdose victim won’t be arrested when police arrive as long as the caller “acted in good faith” to save a life.
Police can seize any illegal drugs found on the scene but nobody goes to jail.
“I’m sure it saves lives people are afraid of the consequences if they’re around illegal substances,” House said.
South Carolina is the only state in the southeast that doesn’t have that law.
Police and deputies in Greenville County and first responders in other parts of the state carry narcan and they’ve used it to save lives but not all overdoses are reported quickly.
In Union County, Sheriff David Taylor said overdose callers usually waste precious minutes trying to clean up the area and scrub away an incriminating evidence. Many overdoses are simply dropped off at a hospital door.