RALEIGH — A bill amending North Carolina’s Controlled Substances Act, meant to strengthen the fight in the opioid crisis, has moved from the General Assembly to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 321, sponsored by Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, unanimously passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, according to legislative records. Other primary sponsors are Sens. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, and Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson.
The bill, in part, adds fentanyl and carfentanil to the list of drugs of which possession is a Class I felony. Before, possession of fentanyl was a misdemeanor. It also changes the legal definition of “isomer” and adds other drugs to the controlled substances list.
DrugAbuse.org defines fentanyl as: “a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.”
Also from the website:
“Some drug dealers are mixing fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. This is because it takes very little to produce a high with fentanyl, making it a cheaper option. This is especially risky when people taking drugs don’t realize they might contain fentanyl as a cheap but dangerous additive. They might be taking stronger opioids than their bodies are used to and can be more likely to overdose.”
According to McInnis’ office:
“Senate Bill 321 provides additional enforcement tools so law enforcement can go after individuals trafficking in ‘designer’ drugs and allows the chemical makeup of those drugs to be entered into databases. ‘Designer’ drugs are synthetic drugs that have been designed to mimic other controlled substances and are increasingly dangerous and created to circumvent drug laws.
“Fentanyl and opioids are killing our citizens and ravaging our communities, splitting up families and taking children from their parents at a far too early age,” McInnis said in a statement Thursday. “This bill targets small-time drug dealers that are getting a slap on the wrist because fentanyl possession is a misdemeanor. We need to do everything we can to shut down the opioid crisis in our state. This bill goes a long way to make such a shutdown happen.”
According to the Sandhills Opioid Response Consortium, there were 949 overdoses last year in the five-county region comprising Richmond, Moore, Hoke, Montgomery and Lee counties. Not all overdoses resulted in a death.
Two of those counties, Richmond and Moore, are in McInnis’ district, along with Scotland and Anson. There were 167 overdoses in Richmond county and 288 in Moore in 2020.
The county’s Drug Endangered Family Task Force Opioid Dashboard shows that nine of the overdose deaths in 2015, the most that year, were from commonly prescribed opioid medications. However, heroin or other synthetic narcotics topped the list with six in 2019.
Prescription opioids accounted for the most overdose deaths from 2010-2017, except for in 2016, when they tied with heroin and cocaine at three each.
In 2020, there were 76 opioid overdose emergency department visits in Richmond County, among the highest in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
During the first seven months of the year, there were 64 overdose emergency department visits — compared to 58 during the same time period in 2020, according to the Injury and Violence Prevention Branch of NCDETECT, due to the following causes:
- 37 – unspecified narcotics (opiate or narcotic related)
- 17 – heroin
- 9 – commonly prescribed opioids
- 1 – fentanyl/fentanyl analogs
As of June 18, the Hamlet Police Department had responded to 45 suspected overdoses since July 20, 2019. Three ODs since April of 2020 had been fatal.
In Rockingham, police responded to at least 49 overdose calls in the first six months of this year. Six of those resulted in death.
The Richmond Observer is working to get statistics from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
County data from this year show 34 patients were dosed with naloxone in May and 35 in June, more than double the number of the previous or subsequent months.
McInnis was also a primary supporter of the STOP Act to limit the availability of opioids and develop tracking systems. The bill passed both houses unanimously and was signed by the governor in 2017.
Gov. Roy Cooper has 10 days to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, it automatically becomes law.