The NC General Assembly has passed, and the governor signed into law, a bill that will mean harsher penalties and certain jail time for drug dealers and others who supply drugs to people when that drug leads to their death.

Senate Bill 189 – which will go into effect on Friday, December 1 of this year –makes other changes as well related to drug crimes and also encourages people to call for help for overdose victims even if the caller was also using drugs or has some on their person.

The new law alters to the state’s “Death by Distribution” law, which applies to those who provide a controlled substance – such as fentanyl, cocaine or methamphetamine – and the user dies as a result.

The new law is being implemented in response to the huge number of overdose deaths seen in North Carolina in recent years – especially those due to fentanyl.

According to state statistics, 77 percent of reported overdose deaths in North Carolina involved fentanyl.

Fentanyl is also considered a tremendous threat because only a miniscule amount can kill.  That point was driven home by the death of 1-year old boy at a New York daycare this month after contact with the drug. That story, which became national news, is just one example why state lawmakers and other governmental bodies across the country are now making changes in their laws meant to address the crisis.

Statewide, North Carolina saw a 22 percent overall increase in drug overdoses in 2021 over 2020.  In 2021, over 4,000 North Carolinians succumbed to drug overdose.

Under the new law, anyone who provides drugs that result in the death of another will be punished with a Class C felony – which carries automatic prison time. Also, higher penalties will apply in situations where the person provides the deadly drug to someone with malice – or when he or she has a previous conviction for a drug crime.

Also, under the new law, sale of the drug to the victim is no longer required to hold someone responsible for the death.

North Carolina is one of 47 states that have Good Samaritan laws, which allow people to seek help for overdoses without fear of punishment for drug possession – if they have only a small amount of drugs on them. The new changes to North Carolina law expand the state’s Good Samaritan laws in ways meant to encourage more people to call for help during overdoses of co-users.

One organization that’s pushed hard for these changes – and that is now very happy to see the new changes being enacted into law – is the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.

The association labeled Bill 189 a “high priority” for sheriffs across the state.

 Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell, the president of the organization, said after the law passed,  “With this new law, law enforcement officers across the state can more effectively charge, and our courts can more seriously punish, individuals who contribute to the growing opioid epidemic.”