Bill increasing fentanyl distribution penalties passes in N.C. Senate

The opioid epidemic continues to impact thousands of North Carolina residents and their families.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 6:10 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 14, 2023 at 5:33 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - A group of republican state senators have introduced Senate Bill 189, which would increase fines for distribution of deadly drugs like fentanyl and heroin.

SB 189 was unanimously passed by the senate on Tuesday, March 14, but it is yet to be voted on by the house.

The opioid epidemic continues to impact thousands of North Carolina residents and their families. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 4,041 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, a 22 percent increase from the year before.

Officials say the driving force behind the increase in deaths is fentanyl.

New Hanover County Senator Michael Lee hopes it can crack down on the state’s drug problem.

“We felt like one of the ways that we could, you know, help in this vein is by increasing criminal penalties and doing some other things to make it easier to go after those criminals who were really causing a lot of problems,” said Lee.

For example, the bill would increase the fine for someone convicted of having between four and 14 grams of heroin or fentanyl from $50,000 to $500,000.

The bill would also change state law to say that anyone who gives a controlled substance to someone who then dies from an overdose can be held accountable. North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association Executive Vice President and General Counsel Eddie Caldwell says this could be an important step in solving the problem.

“The death by distribution statute that we currently have requires the drugs to be transferred by sale, so you’ve got to receive money or something else in value for it,” said Caldwell. “This would close that loophole.”

If the bill becomes law, investigators would be able to request an autopsy if they find probable cause related to death by distribution in a case.

“It is not a silver bullet,” said Lee. “We’re going to have to be working on this in a multi-pronged approach even before what we have today. But for today, one of the things that we can do is really go after increased fines, criminal penalties, establish the task force, and then create the option of the autopsies.”

The bill would also establish a task force of state officials to determine the best way to enforce drug distribution laws.

The bill still needs to be approved by the N.C. House before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.