‘Stop it at the source:’ Ford says bill targets drug traffickers, not users

Published 12:10 am Friday, March 17, 2023

RALEIGH — On Wednesday, the North Carolina Senate unanimously passed a bill filed in response to the growing number of deaths being caused by the opioid epidemic in North Carolina, specifically targeting the drug fentanyl.

Senate Bill 189, also known as “Fentanyl Drug Offenses and Related Changes,” increases fines for drug traffickers moving heroin, fentanyl or carfentanil, with fines ranging from $500,000 to $1 million if convicted. The bill also creates new offenses related to deaths caused by distribution of fentanyl and other controlled substances. To hopefully get more people to call 911, the bill modifies the “Good Samaritan Immunity Law,” providing limited criminal immunity to anyone who possesses less than one gram of any controlled substance if they call for medical assistance for an overdose. Lastly, the bill also creates the “Task Force on Enforcement of Fentanyl and Heroin Drug Violations,” which will make recommendations to lawmakers on how to best combat the opioid epidemic.
“It’s long overdue and there’s some of us that think it could have gone a little bit further, but it’s a good start because this stuff is killing people left and right,” said Sen. Carl Ford (R-33).
Alyssa Harris, director of the Rowan County Public Health Department, said the majority of overdose cases in the county involve fentanyl.
“The overdoses we are seeing are because people are putting fentanyl as a filler to keep it addictive and then people are taking the same amount of (opiates) they always would and then they’re overdosing,” she said. “That’s what I would say we are seeing the most of.”
Ford said he hopes the bill will curb the increase in opioid overdoses Rowan County has seen in recent years and likes that the bill targets drug traffickers, instead of those addicted to opioids. He also said legislators are open to other suggestions that would make the bill even tougher.
“You’ve got to cut the head of the snake off and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “The user, they’re paying the price. We’ve got to stop it at the source.”
He also said the federal government should close the border to Mexico where most of the drugs are coming from.
The bill is now headed to the House for approval.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It can be made illegally in labs. Most drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine or meth because it’s a cheaper option than other fillers. In 2021, over 4,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in 2021, the highest in a single year. Of those deaths, 77% likely involved fentanyl, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.