Harsher punishments coming for trafficking opioids in North Carolina
People who traffic heroin and fentanyl could receive harsher punishments if a bill that passed the North Carolina Senate Tuesday becomes law.
Catch up quick: More than 4,000 people lost their lives to overdose in 2021 — the highest number in the history of the state, North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services announced in February.
- Much of that increase, state health officials said, is driven by fentanyl, which likely accounted for nearly 80% of deaths that year.
Details: The legislation, which has been said to target dealers, not addicts, sets the maximum fine for trafficking certain opioids at one million dollars and expands repercussions for distributing drugs that result in death.
- It also closes a loophole by clarifying that people who give away — rather than just sell — opioids that result in death will also be held responsible.
- There's a number of cases "where the person who caused them to die didn't sell them the drug, they gave it to them," North Carolina Sheriffs' Association lobbyist Eddie Caldwell told Axios. "That was a gap in the law. This is designed to close that gap."
The big picture: 25 through 34-year-olds accounted for the most opioid overdose emergency department visits of any other age group in January, according to the state health department.
- Lawmakers hope that the steep consequences outlined in the legislation will be a deterrent for young people in particular.
- "If you're dealing in fentanyl, you better make sure you understand what the consequences are, because they're long and lengthy," state Sen. Michael Lazzara, a sponsor of the legislation, told Axios.
Threat level: The pandemic exacerbated the opioid crisis, with deaths jumping by more than 70% since 2019, according to DHHS.
- Overdose deaths increased most in that time frame for Black North Carolinians, who saw a 139% increase in fatal overdoses.
What's next: The legislation will now go to the House.
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