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NC lawmakers tackle new drug problem: Embalming fluid

N.C. Legislature Building
N.C. Legislature Building

State legislators are looking to crack down on the use of embalming fluid as a dangerous new drug.

The bill would make it a felony for people who don’t work in a funeral home to possess or sell embalming fluid. It stems from a new trend where drug users are adding the drugs PCP or fentanyl to the chemicals typically used to preserve bodies.

The concoction can lead to deadly brain damage and psychotic episodes.

The legislation is named after Rakim Shackleford, a 31-year-old Wilson man who broke into his mother’s home. Katina Shackleford-Wright described the tragic incident to a House committee this week.

"I was thinking somebody was breaking in, and I took my son’s life, because he was high and I didn’t know it was him," she said. "That’s how this bill is important, because it’s bad in Wilson, North Carolina. If we can get this passed and help people who have no help for them — I had him in rehab and they said they couldn’t do nothing for him."

Rep. Ken Fontenot, R-Wilson — who sponsored the bill — says it's "one of the most blood chilling" drug trends he's seen. He says it's become particularly popular in low-income communities.

"The harm that it is causing is nightmarish at best," he said. "The embalming fluid alone is enough to kill you."

Proposed penalties for the improper sale or use of embalming fluid would vary based on the amount involved. The maximum punishment called for in the bill is 17 years in prison.

The bill has so far passed its first House committee with bipartisan support. It now heads to the House Rules Committee.

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

Colin Campbell