JASPER COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Several agencies are working together to battle a growing problem in the Lowcountry: overdoses.
That’s the goal of a new task force formed in Jasper County to fight back against drug dealers.
Already this year, eight people have died from overdoses, with five more deaths under investigation. That’s compared to nine all of last year in the county.
“With COVID-19 people home, people have more free time on their hands, people are worried, they are stressed out and of course they turn to their addictions,” said Jasper County Sheriff Chris Malphrus.
His office has teamed up with the Jasper County Coroner’s Office and the Ridgeland and Hardeeville police department to create the drug and crime task force.
“It is a state of emergency to us, at this point, to do all that we can do to get ahead of this as fast as we can,” Malphrus explained.
The emergency? More drugs on the streets and more people dying.
“Heroin, cocaine, crack,” Malphrus listed. “We are dealing with marijuana now that’s laced with Fentanyl and other major drugs that kill instantly.”
Thirty-two times this year, EMTs, police officers and firefighters have used the anti-overdoses drug Narcan to save a patient’s life. Some of those people have overdosed and almost died two — even three or four times.
That’s why stopping the spread of these drugs is “imperative,” according to everyone involved. The task force members will focus on recent drug overdose death investigations, county-wide drug investigations and high visibility proactive policing.
“We are dealing with the same people,” the sheriff said. “We are dealing with the same drug dealers, we are dealing with the same drug house, we are dealing with the same user’s dealers, movers from A to Z.”
Those movers aren’t moving into local neighborhoods. Instead, investigators say they stop along I-95, setting up shop in local hotels and selling to anyone who comes by.
“It is not just our residents, it’s people that are coming here and they can see the drug market in Jasper County as a way to make money, not just jasper but everywhere,” said Malphrus. “To come here and see it’s the interstate and to see they have people stopping and spending the night at extended-stay places here they see it as a market as an opportunity.
“Even though it’s illicit drugs, it’s a way to make money and we want them to know you cannot do that in Jasper County.”
“No criminal has a boundary,” said Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward.
“It doesn’t stop at the city limits of Hardeeville,” he said. “It doesn’t stop at the county line of Jasper County.”
“It is a statewide epidemic just like this COIVD-19,” Woodward added. “It’s something we need to get our fingers and hands-on and try to combat as quickly as possible.”
Combatting this spread of drug and drug users isn’t easy with the small staff in the cities and county departments.
“It takes several hundred man-hours to investigate one drug house, one drug dealer to identify,” said Malphrus. “By the time we take that one particular person down, that particular residential business down, it’s replaced by 10.”
That’s why the agencies will work as a team, sharing information, using each other’s resources to benefit everyone in Jasper County and take down the criminals responsible.
“We are going to be doing assertive policing, aggressive policing, and we are going to let people know we are not going to put up with it in Jasper County,” said a defiant Malphrus. “Your choice is to go to jail or move elsewhere.”
“Listen the last thing we want to do is have to arrest people but again we are going to let them know we are coming and you have one of two choices,” said Woodward. “Either stop what you are doing or move somewhere else.”
The problem is so widespread and difficult to deal with that the coroner’s office was supposed to do an interview with News 3, but at the designated time they were called out to deal with another possible overdose death.
The entire task force will meet bi-weekly and share information to stop situations just like this — and hopefully, save lives.