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Bill calls for tougher penalties for opioid, fentanyl dealers

W Edward Callis III

An increase in drug overdose deaths is prompting new legislation to target people who sell fentanyl and other opioids.

Republican state senators joined prosecutors, law enforcement and family members of overdose victims at a press conference Tuesday. They say additional action is needed to stop the sale of deadly drugs. More than 4,000 people died from overdoses in North Carolina in 2021. That represents an approximately 70% increase from 2019 rates.

The proposal would revise the state’s “death by distribution” law that charges drug dealers responsible for overdose deaths. Some dealers would face charges similar to second-degree murder if the bill becomes law.

Onslow County Sheriff Chris Thomas says his deputies respond to overdoses every week. He wants more tools to prosecute dealers.

“This will clarify it for us and help us greatly to move them through the system and get the people spreading this poison in our community behind bars where they need to be," Thomas said.

If the bill becomes law, people who sold opioids that resulted in an overdose would face more prison time. The measure received bipartisan support when it passed its first committee hearing Tuesday.

Leslie Maynor Locklear is a mom from Robeson County who lost two sons to overdoses last year. She spoke to lawmakers in support of the bill.

“I don’t have the answers on what to do to stop this epidemic, but I know we must try, and keep trying," she said. "I owe it to my boys to fight for them and to support every measure I can to stem the flow of illegal drugs, to punish the people who sell them and to stop every person I can from ever trying it.”

Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson.

The bill also includes larger fines for convicted drug dealers. And it would create a new state task force to study solutions to the fentanyl and heroin crisis.

Copyright 2023 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Colin Campbell