COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The heroin epidemic has made its way into South Carolina and deaths from overdoses on the rise. Many doctors say the drug is now more lethal than ever.
But can a new law stop the fatalities? Some state legislatures believe longer time served for heroin-related arrests may be the answer.
If passed, one new bill would allow for drug dealers who sell lethal doses to be prosecuted for homicide. The bill changes the way "involuntary manslaughter" is defined and allows for those who sell drugs, like heroin, to go to prison for up to 15 years.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts has seen death from heroin and opioid abuse - at least 27 people died in Richland County in 2016.
He says heroin is being laced with an even deadlier drug called fentanyl. There's a task force in the Columbia area, working on ways to curb that fatality count.
"A lot of times, we've actually found the victims with the needle still in their arm, or the needle next to them," Watts said. "So, that's not uncommon with a heroin overdose for them to literally die as soon as they inject themselves."
Senator Greg Hembree from Horry County sponsored the bill. He says the heroin epidemic is particularly bad in his district. In total, there have been at least 123 people who have died from drug overdoses, with about half of those from heroin.
"And what happens is, there's a hot load that's come into town," Hembree said. "It's been sold. It's been distributed, and all of a sudden people are dropping like flies."
Hembree believes the stiffer penalties for selling is a step toward lessening the deaths.
Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews believes the key to change lies with judges putting drug offenders in jail for longer.