COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — Legislation that would establish mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking fentanyl in South Carolina is headed to the governor’s desk.
Currently, there is no trafficking statute for fentanyl in state law like there is for other drugs like cocaine or heroin.
Officials say the drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine and has been fueling a spike in fatal overdoses across the country in recent years.
The latest data from the state health department shows there were nearly 1,500 South Carolinians who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021. Back in 2016, fentanyl was responsible for 160 fatal overdoes in the state.
This week, the House of Representatives gave final approval to the legislation in a 103-1 vote. It would make trafficking fentanyl a felony. House Speaker Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) told reporters cracking down on fentanyl trafficking was part of their agenda this year. “It’s a huge win,” he said.
Representative Seth Rose (D-Richland) said on the House floor he agreed the state needed a trafficking statute for fentanyl but he was concerned about the unintended consequences with this piece of legislation.
“If somebody is struggling with substance abuse issues and they have 10 pills they believe to be Percocets, they’re (law enforcement) not going to withdraw the fentanyl from the pill,” Rose said. “They’re going to weigh the whole thing and all of sudden you’re going to ensnare people who are not drug traffickers.”
Lawmakers also included a measure in the bill that would enhance illegal gun possession penalties for anyone who is trafficking drugs.