GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – The House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee held their first public hearing meeting Wednesday in Greenville to address the growing drug problem in South Carolina.
They heard from several speakers including people from drug recovery centers in the county, Sheriff Will Lewis, and members of the public who had personal ties with addiction.
“You live each day wondering if you get that phone call, praying that you don’t,” said Tony Black, who lost both his son and sister to overdoses.
He lost his sister in 2015 and his son last Christmas Eve. He says his son got addicted to prescription drugs after getting in a bad car accident, but years later, it was the synthetic drug, “pink”, that took his life.
“This came as a real shock,” Black said. “It’s reaching out and touching everyone very unexpectedly.”
Black was part of a large number of parents who showed up to the meeting and had also lost their children to drug overdoses.
The committee also heard from some people who were lucky enough to recover.
One man shared his story, saying “I’m one of those guys who ate out of trash cans and pan held for money.”
Another woman talked about coming through the crack epidemic and surviving.
The 16-member committee says those were all stories they wanted to hear.
Rep. Eric Bedingfield, the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee Chairman, lost his son nearly two years ago to an opioid addiction. He says he wanted his other committee members who may not have as personal of a connection with the disease to hear from people affected.
“[We] Had an opportunity to see kind of inside, under the blanket so to speak point of view,” Rep Bedingfield said.
He says what they heard will help them in creating legislation to tackle the problem officials say is only getting worse.
“We’re seeing the criminal justice system filled with the damage drugs have in our community,” said 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins.
The solicitor’s office started a program last year called “New Start” that allows non-violent drug offenders caught with a low volume of product to go to rehab in exchange for their record being cleared. They partner with treatment and recovery organizations such as FAVOR and The Phoenix Center.
Wilkins says they’ve had a 77 percent rehabilitation rate with program. Bedingfield says he wants the committee to look at expanding this program beyond Greenville County, possible statewide.
Sheriff Lewis also talked about partnerships his agency is forming, especially with schools and targeting the youth.
Sheriff Lewis says 43 percent of the overdoses in Greenville County are from opioids. He says one of his deputies found five ounces of the synthetic drug, “gray death” during a traffic stop on Tuesday night. He also says that since the beginning of the year, his office and the Greenville Police Department have administered 31 doses of NARCAN.
Lawmakers say they hope to have legislation formed from information they gathered in the public meetings by January.
If people would like to reach out to the committee, they can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next public hearing will be in Charleston.