GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – More than 28,000 lives have been lost to the opioid crisis in North Carolina over the past 20 years according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Experts say the effects can be seen here in the east.
“Working as a crisis evaluator at the hospital right now, that is a good sampling of what is happening in our communities. We see multiple overdoses, sometimes multiple overdoses a day, and 95% of those are fentanyl-related,” says Hakuna Wellness Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist and Co-Owner, Richard Morefield.
Onslow County District Attorney, Ernie Lee, has also seen the opioid crisis firsthand in his district.
“As you know fentanyl is a very huge problem, an epidemic even in our area, particularly the Sneads Ferry area here in Onslow County. I myself have prosecuted several cases involving fentanyl,” Lee told WITN.
Now, A Republican-led bill passed in the NC Senate would increase penalties for drug distribution if signed into law.
Lee says, “This is a bill that is also going to toughen the penalties for the sale and delivery of fentanyl and other opioids, particularly trafficking amounts, and change the amount for the death by distribution. You can be prosecuted, it’s a very serious felony classified as a B-2 felony which is a very high-ranking felony in this state.”
Under the bill, dealers with lengthy records who commit such crimes could face more than a decade in prison and those who do so with malice could face more than 30 years.
“A very helpful tool for law enforcement and for prosecution. If you are out there selling and delivering drugs like fentanyl or these other opioids causing the death of someone, you should pay the price,” Lee says.
However, addiction specialists in the east believe harsher penalties are just the beginning of tackling the issue.
Morefield told WITN, “The demand has to be addressed. Again, the penalties need to be harsh. I really believe that. I think harsher penalties is one step in the right direction and more education, early education and prevention is the second part of that also.”
Senate Bill 189 now heads to the House. A previous version of the bill moved through the Senate in 2019 but never made it to the House.