After struggling for years with an opioid addiction, Joshua Bedingfield went for two years clean and sober.
The 26-year-old Upstate resident found himself a job and was the proud father of two little girls. But on Easter Sunday 2016, he relapsed and bought what he thought was heroin.
It turned out to be a variant of fentanyl, a synthetically produced opioid that is about 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
“It killed him instantly,” said his father, Eric Bedingfield, a Greenville County Republican legislator, who has traveled the state sharing his family’s story.
Bedingfield is among four Republican legislators leading an effort in the S.C. House of Representatives to confront a rising use of heroin and other opioids, which has devastated families nationwide.
Reps. Russell Fry, Chip Huggins and Phyllis Henderson flanked Bedingfield when together Wednesday they announced the filing of 10 bills aimed at addressing an increase in opioid-related deaths, which totaled 573 in 2015, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. In 2014, 504 died.
The bills range from creating a “Good Samaritan” law – providing limited immunity from certain drug and alcohol offenses to those who call for help if they witness a person or friend suffering from an overdose – to requiring health professionals enter into a database people who have prescriptions for narcotics exceeding five days to ensure they’re not obtaining pills from multiple doctors.
Choking back tears at times, the elder Bedingfield recalled how his son was prescribed a narcotic to address an injury when he was 17. The teen grew addicted to the painkiller.
“My son struggled with a pill problem that turned into a heroin problem, which eventually took him from the Earth after just 26 years,” Bedingfield said. “I never thought that my family would be a family who is affected by this type of problem.”
Bedingfield said legislators must think about the families whose members are struggling with the opioid epidemic. Fry echoed Bedingfield, saying he has seen the opioid epidemic destroy families and cripple small businesses. His legislative district includes Horry County, which has been among the hardest hit in South Carolina.
“No state is immune to this epidemic, and no community is untouched,” Fry said. “Not only is today about the legislation that we’re filing, but it’s also a call to action for our General Assembly ... and every citizen of this state to address this problem fully and finally.”
House members aren’t alone in fighting the battle against the opioid epidemic. Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, is among several senators who have filed legislation addressing the issue as well.
One of Hembree’s bills up for consideration by a Senate panel on Tuesday calls for having drug dealers face involuntary manslaughter charges if the drug they sell results in the death of a user.
Though heroin on its own can be deadly, dealers have started mixing it with deadly synthetic drugs to provide users with a better high, which has contributed to the rise in deaths statewide.
Richland sheriff’s narcotics agents have found that dealers will warn users to be careful with what they’re buying if it’s laced with “China white,” one of the street names for fentanyl. Even so, overdoses are almost a selling point for dealers, with users seeking a stronger high.
“It’s a terrible problem,” Hembree said. “You’ve got all these synthetics opioids – fentanyl and others – that are being used by drug dealers to lace the heroin with.”
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