COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — A group of state lawmakers are renewing their push to increase penalties for trafficking a synthetic opioid responsible for hundreds of deaths in South Carolina.

Currently, there is no state law for fentanyl trafficking like there is for other drugs like heroin or cocaine.

Rep. Doug Gilliam (R-Union) pre-filed a bill that would establish minimum and maximum penalties for trafficking fentanyl.

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.

“It’s gotten bad so we have to try to slow this down or stop it,” Gilliam said. He said he worked closely with law enforcement while crafting the bill the last few months.

According to the latest data from the state health department, fentanyl accounted for more than 1,100 fatal overdoses in South Carolina in 2020.

Back in 2016, fentanyl was responsible for 160 fatal overdoses in the state. Data for 2021 has yet to be finalized.

“A lot of people don’t like mandatory minimum sentencing but we based these penalties on trafficking heroin,” Gilliam said.

Efforts to pass similar bills like this in the past have stalled at the State House. Gilliam said he’s hopeful it will get across the finish line in 2023.

Data from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) show how prevalent the issue is right now. SLED said their toxicology data show fentanyl and fentanyl analog
related cases continue to be one of the fastest-growing categories.

In 2021, they said DUI cases involving fentanyl rose 92% from 149 in 2020 to 286 last year. Also, postmortem death investigation cases involving fentanyl rose 32% from 342 cases in 2020 to 451 cases in 2021.

“Law enforcement continues to see the deadly impacts of fentanyl on South Carolina families,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel. “New legislation that holds violent traffickers accountable is needed to curb the increasing flow of fentanyl into communities across the state. Legislation with strict criminal penalties will send a clear message to traffickers that the fentanyl issue is taken seriously in South Carolina.”

The new legislative session begins Jan. 10.