North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is calling on state legislators for funding to create a Fentanyl Control Unit in the state’s Department of Justice.
“Fentanyl is deadly and highly addictive,” said Stein Tuesday in a press release. “Even as we interdict more fentanyl at the border than ever before, too many North Carolinians overdose from fentanyl and are dying. We must hold those who peddle this poison accountable and take them off our streets.”
The request comes as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release, also on Tuesday, stating that North Carolina saw a 22% increase in overdose deaths in 2021, the highest number of overdose deaths in a single year on record in the state and that 77% of those deaths likely involved fentanyl, often in combination with other substances. Stein said in 2022, fentanyl rose to become the number two drug found in drug evidence tested at the State Crime Lab.
DHHS said the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the crisis.
Overdose deaths in the state have increased by 72% since 2019, with a 40% jump in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic.
Stein is requesting more prosecutors within the Justice Department’s Special Prosecutions and Law Enforcement Section to help local district attorneys handle large-scale fentanyl trafficking, wiretap, and overdose cases. Prosecutors in Special Prosecutions are referred cases from local district attorneys for reasons of conflict, jurisdictional complexity, and resource management.
Special Prosecutions has applied for 101 wiretaps in the past year, targeting local, state, and international drug trafficking organizations, according to Stein’s release.
A new Fentanyl Control Unit would prosecute fentanyl and other drug traffickers and dealers, bringing additional expertise and resources to these important cases.
Stein also said that additional resources are needed in individual district attorney’s offices across the state to address all types of fentanyl prosecutions.
In 2021, more than 70,000 people died of a fentanyl overdose in the United States. A recent study from Millennium Health found that the southeastern U.S. saw a 210% increase from 2019 to 2022 in urine drug screenings that were positive for fentanyl. Researchers attributed the spike to government-mandated shutdowns during COVID.
Stein has already declared his run for governor of N.C. and fentanyl crime is likely to be an important issue in the 2024 elections. Two weeks ago, former N.C. House member Tom Murry announced his bid to be the state’s next Attorney General and made creation of a rapid response drug task force his first campaign pledge.
“Fentanyl is a weapon of mass destruction that is destroying our communities one overdose at a time,” Murry said. “I’m declaring war on the drug cartels.”