Note: As of 1:13 p.m. CST, I have been alerted that these charges were simply an error — they should’ve been combined with each of these three’s buprenorphine possession charges. I cannot find any information to back this claim up. As of now, each of these three are facing separate Schedule III charges for buprenorphine and naloxone.
On Wednesday, July 22, an Ashley Nichole Pulliam, William Keith Gary, Jr., and Juan Francisco Esquivel were each charged by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department with one count of Possession of a Schedule III Controlled Substance … for possessing naloxone.
39 people in total were arrested. Pulliam, Gary, and Esquivel were each given 12 charges in total; each three share the same list of 12 charges.
The life-saving drug has been legal in the Palmetto State since at least 2016, when the South Carolina Joint Naloxone Protocol was written into law.
These charges are alarming, as the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department seemingly doesn’t want to encourage people at high risk of opioid overdose to carry it. Further, a legal precedent to wrongly charge individuals found in possession of naloxone could be established if these charges stick.
We must urge Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department and South Carolina legislators to reverse these charges.
Criminal Charges for Naloxone — a Bad Look
Naloxone (Narcan) is a life-saving drug that reverses opioid overdose. It’s been distributed across the United States — and the world — in response to opioid overdose deaths. South Carolina, like every state, has legalized naloxone. Why are people being charged for possessing this life-saving drug, one that has no known contraindications outside of naloxone allergy?
The South Carolina Joint Naloxone Protocol, pursuant to § 44-130-40 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription or patient-specific instrutions, making naloxone legal in South Carolina. The most recent iteration of this law was written in 2016.
Marc Burrows, operator of South Carolina’s only syringe exchange, Challenges Inc., says, “This is unfortunate. Naloxone saves lives, and it’s already legal here. Why were these three charged for naloxone possession, of all things?”
Naloxone possession is legally protected by law. You can’t get “high” from naloxone. Rather, it removes opioids from the brain’s opioid receptors, thus reversing overdose. It has no known major contraindications, meaning it doesn’t interact with other drugs. People can be allergic to naloxone, though it’s rarely serious.
“Operation Groundhog Day”
Many law enforcement agencies, especially in rural America, make annual or otherwise regular “drug roundups” where they indict drug-involved people, mainly sellers, on various drug-related charges.
This operation had been in the works for some time, says Fox Carolina, a local news outlet covering the Spartanburg, South Carolina area.