When police find drugs on a person in SC, they arrest them. The person goes to jail, hopefully bonds out, and then faces criminal charges that could land them in prison.
When a parent or guardian is unable to care for a child or puts a child in danger in SC, the adult may be charged with child abuse and neglect - a criminal charge that carries up to ten years in prison. DSS and the family court will also usually get involved to protect the child.
When a parent is an addict and becomes unable to care for their children, what happens then? Do we arrest the parent, put them in prison, and separate the family? Are criminal laws an easy solution to what is truly a complex problem?
Heroin Possession and Child Neglect Charges in Myrtle Beach
DSS took custody of a Myrtle Beach woman's two children after police said one of the children found her overdosed on heroin.
The woman's 10-year-old daughter used a pair of scissors to open a locked bathroom door in their home and found her mother lying unconscious on the floor next to several syringes and other drug paraphernalia, according to police.
After she was treated at a local hospital, the mother was arrested on child neglect and drug charges "due to the psychological damage the event potentially caused the child paired with the physical danger of syringes and narcotics in the mother's possession," an officer wrote in the police report.
What's next for this mother? Anger, judgment, and jail?
Hopefully, the mother will find the resources that are available in Horry County to help recovering addicts and she will use them.
Once she is released from jail, treatment facilities are an option, followed by outpatient counseling and 12-step meetings. If appropriate, her case could be resolved in the Horry County Drug Court which would include continued monitoring, drug tests, and intensive substance abuse treatment - the result could be clean living, a reunited family, and no conviction.
Is this a sympathetic case? Will her prosecutor want to make an example of her, judge her, and punish her because of her addiction? Or will her defense lawyer, prosecutor, judge, and others she comes into contact with help her to rebuild and remain a part of our community?
Nationwide Problem Hits Hard in Horry County
The story brings up a range of reactions - heartbreak, revulsion, anger, helplessness. The worst part is that this is just one of hundreds of thousands of similar stories unfolding right now in Horry County, South Carolina, and across the nation. The opioid epidemic is destroying families, robbing children of their parents, and parents of their children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 42,248 opioid-related deaths in 2016. The number of opioid overdose deaths that year was five times higher than in 1999. CDC included South Carolina on a list of states that have seen "statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates."
Horry County was the site of 101 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, more than any other county in the state, according to data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Criminal Laws are Not the Answer to Addiction
We can lock drug addicts in a cage - in many cases, it does not help the person to stop using drugs (if you did not already know, drugs are readily available in SC prisons).
It does tear apart their families, prevent them from working a job, and separates them from the support networks and resources that they need to get clean and stay clean.
We could also stop pretending and just murder drug addicts like what Duterte is still doing in the Philippines.
Or, we can move towards a different approach. Most people who are addicts are not bad people who must be separated from society. They are not bad people who need to be judged and punished by society.
They are usually good people who need help. The problem is, helping someone who has a complex, stubborn, and irrational problem like drug addiction is hard. Hurting people by locking them in a cage is so much easier... but it does nothing to solve the problem.
If you are facing drug charges in SC or child neglect charges in SC, call your Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer before you make any statements to police or prosecutors. Get help, get clean, and stay clean. Most importantly, do not let the state take away your freedom and opportunity to become a better person and parent without a fight.