Police in Rock Hill have charged a 15-year-old with opioid trafficking after they found Oxycodone and bullets in the teen's backpack, police said.
The charge appears to be groundbreaking: York County prosecutors and drug agents don't recall another case involving a suspect so young charged with trafficking narcotics.
The lead prosecutor for York County's juvenile cases said in her quarter century of handling juvenile cases, the office has never had a trafficking case for a suspect so young.
"I have been doing this for 25 years and I don't recall an opioid trafficking case against a person this age," said Ouida Dest, 16th Circuit Deputy Solicitor for juvenile cases. "And not one where there is this amount of drugs is alleged."
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The amount of Oxycodone seized from the juvenile Tuesday was between four and 14 grams, an amount which resulted in the felony trafficking charge under South Carolina law, police said.
Marvin Brown, York County's drug unit commander, said he does not recall his unit ever having an opioid trafficking case against a defendant so young.
The arrest comes as America deals with what President Donald Trump is calling a national crisis of opioid abuse and misuse. York County advocates against opioid misuse said the prescription painkiller problem in America is "as bad as its ever been."
The teen was arrested before midnight Tuesday.
Rock Hill police stopped two males on a motorcycle near Saluda and Mount Holly roads, a Rock Hill incident report stated. Inside the back pack of the juvenile, officers found bullets and opioid pills, the report showed.
The suspect's name was not released because of his age.
A baggie containing drugs was found that appeared to be "packaged in a way that would be for sale later," said Rock Hill Police Department Capt. Mark Bollinger. A prescription bottle with more pills in it was also found and seized, police said.
The source of the drugs remains under investigation, Bollinger said.
The exact weight of the drugs was not released. Trafficking charges are based on the weight of drugs seized, said Brown.
A second person on the motorcycle fled on foot and was not caught, police said.
The juvenile suspect was later released to a parent, said Bollinger. He has not yet appeared in court, prosecutors said.
It is unclear if the juvenile has a lawyer, Stacey Coleman, who heads the juvenile division of the 16th Circuit Public Defender's Office. She said her office has not been assigned the case.
Dest, who did not comment on specifics of the teen's case, said most opioid cases involve pills stolen from family members.
Dest noted that all York County police agencies have drop boxes in their lobbies for drugs to be discarded safely.
"Those boxes are a crucial tool to keep children safe," Dest said.
Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit Solicitor, said it is "extremely common" that adults leave unused or unfinished opioids where children have access in medicine cabinets or other places in the home. He urged adults to secure or lock up all medications, and then use the drop boxes at police stations for unused medications.
The best way to keep children from having access is make sure the child has no access," Brackket said.
The federal Health and Human Services department says prescription drug misuse is among the fastest growing drug problems in America. Brackett said his office has seen several burglaries where addicts or thieves target homes seeking opioids. Teens have become part of that national crisis, Brackett said.
"News like this may be shocking to some, but sadly to those of us who work in public safety it is not," Brackkett said. "The scope of this crisis is staggering."
Bob Norwood, executive director of York County All On Board, a drug abuse and prevention group, said he is not shocked to hear that a 15-year-old was charged with trafficking. He said the opioid problem is "as bad in America as it has ever been."
The drugs are almost always stolen, Norwood said.
"Most people that age, teens, get the drugs from a family member somehow, then either use them or resell them," Norwood said.
The All on Board Group coordinated an opioid summit in York County in January and will sponsor a second one for teens and parents later in 2018, Norwood said.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald