Death by distribution: If someone dies from drugs you gave/sold them, you go to prison

Published 8:49 am Friday, September 29, 2023

Senate Bill 189, Fentanyl Drug Offense and Related Changes was passed by the General Assembly
and has been signed into law by the governor.

The bill revises law related to the distribution of controlled substances which results in a person’s death, as well as fentanyl crimes. A controlled substance is defined in the legislation as any form (synthetic or natural) of opium or opiate, cocaine, methamphetamine, depressant or any combination of these substances, including fentanyl.

The bill increases the penalties for North Carolina’s Death by Distribution law if a person delivers a controlled
substance and the user dies as a result of that substance. This will be punished as a Class C felony, which carries automatic prison time. Even higher penalties apply in situations where the person acts with malice or has a previous conviction for a controlled substance violation.

Also included in the legislation is the closure of a previous gap in Death by Distribution law so that proof of
sale to the victim is no longer required to be proven in order to hold a person responsible for killing someone
by giving them controlled substances.

The bill also expands the existing Good Samaritan law, providing immunity from prosecution for any person
in possession of less than one gram of a controlled substance who seeks medical attention for someone
suffering from an overdose. The Good Samaritan law is meant to encourage people to help someone who is
overdosing even if they are in possession of controlled substances themselves. Forty-seven states and the
District of Columbia have Good Samaritan laws.

North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association President and Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell said: “Fentanyl and other controlled substances have become a huge concern for law enforcement over recent years. It is killing people in our communities and is a potential threat to the law enforcement officers who encounter it in the course of their duties. 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.”

In recent years, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has reported a significant increase in overdose deaths. Approximately 77% of the reported overdose deaths in North Carolina involved fentanyl. It takes only two milligrams of fentanyl to be a lethal dose. This amounts to just a few grains of sand.

A 22% overall increase in overdoses was recorded in 2021, with 4,041 North Carolinians succumbing to drug
overdose that year.

The changes to the law will go into effect on Dec. 1.