HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina legislators are working to enhance the penalty for those who are caught trafficking fentanyl.

Horry County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tom Fox said the number of accidental overdoses involving fentanyl rose 35% from 2020 to 2021.

Horry County leads South Carolina in overdose deaths, topping the list with 272 of 2,168 deaths. Greenville and Charleston had the second and third highest, respectively.

“It’s a highly addictive drug. And anybody that’s addicted to substance has to have a financial source to provide income or some way to pay for it. When you run out of cash, you go to steal and then you start breaking into houses, breaking into cars,” Fox said. “So, it increases property crimes significantly. But the number one reason is the overall damage that it’s doing to our community.”

To crack down on the fentanyl epidemic, South Carolina senators passed a bill to criminalize fentanyl traffickers with harsher penalties, including Horry County Sen. Luke Rankin.

“We heard from our sheriff, we heard from Myrtle Beach and the Conway city police chiefs, begging us to do what we could to try to crack down the unfettered sprayed and the harm that it is doing across not only the nation, but right here in Horry County,” Rankin said.

People convicted of trafficking the drug could face a minimum of seven years in prison and up to 40 years depending on the amount of fentanyl they had.

Senators also added an amendment that traffickers who are caught with a gun would no longer be able to own a firearm and could get an additional five years.

“The goal here is to scare people and to make them aware that criminal activity has consequences, and particularly on the second and third offenses,” Rankin said. “This is a deterrent. We want these drug dealers to know that they are going to serve major time if they decide to participate in yet another illegal drug trade.”

The new version of the bill will need to get another approval in the house before it can head to the governor’s desk.

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