WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - District Attorneys Ben David and Jon David, surrounded by law enforcement officials from across southeastern North Carolina, on Tuesday announced a new initiative on the opioid epidemic and have "declared war" on drug dealers.
Aboard the Battleship North Carolina Tuesday morning, District Attorney Ben David said 175 people a day are dying in the United States due to the opioid overdoses.
"That's 64,000 people a year. That's the equivalent of Vietnam each and every year in our country," David said. "How many days would it take if a foreign invader parachuted in and killed 175 Americans before we declare war? The answer is this is urgent, it's important, and we have to act now."
David said prosecutors in the five-county area will enact a new policy and request a $1 million bond during the first court appearance for anyone arrested for selling heroin or carfentanyl.
"If you are peddling poison for profit in this five-county region, you need to know the cost of business just went up," David said.
David said prosecutors will also ask for alleged drug dealers to be remain jailed because they should be considered a flight risks and are dangers to the community.
David said prior to Tuesday morning's news conference, there were 40 people with pending drug cases who were out on bond. "When they get out, it's very frustrating to us," New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said. "Hopefully this will send a message."
David said those people would still be in jail under the new initiative. Many of those suspects were arrested again on other charges.
"This is a public safety issue, these are career criminals. We're talking about straight up dealers and traffickers," David said. "These are the people that prisons were built for."
"We are going to be unapologetic in trying to put you in prison for as long as possible. No one can claim ignorance about the danger of heroin and carfentanyl," David explained.
District Attorney Jon David said the opioid crisis is multi-faceted and is a battle that must be waged on many fronts including treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation but also enforcement.
"The opioid crisis is nothing short of a public health emergency in the Cape Fear Region and as law enforcement leaders, we will be taking an aggressive stance on this issue to save lives," Jon David said.
David said efforts by law enforcement and legislators to curb the number of illegal pills on the streets have been largely effective, but as a consequence, pill addicts migrated to heroin which led to more overdose deaths.
"The goal of this initiative is ambitious," Jon David said. "Our metric is very well defined, we are trying to save lives. We are putting in place a law enforcement effort which is directed towards saving lives."
Jon David said that in an attempt to make the initiative more effective, they have already engaged their partners in the judicial branch including chief judges, superior court judges, and magistrates to let them know what they're trying to accomplish.
District Attorney Ben David said he respects the judges and that we should live in a system of checks and balances.
"We are simply saying, from the enforcement standpoint, we believe this will be most effective to reduce recidivism, to limit the supply, send a clear message that this is a crime of violence and not just a medical issue," Ben David said. "For the dealers, we're saying the cost of business is going up and we're asking for $1 million bonds."
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina spoke out about the proposal.
"Keeping people locked in jail before they have been found guilty of any crime is a misguided, ineffective, and likely unconstitutional way to combat our state's opioid epidemic," said Sneha Shah, a staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. "As leaders and experts across the state and country have made clear, substance abuse needs to be approached as the public health issue that it is – not by throwing more people in jail before they have even had a chance to face trial. Setting high bail amounts does not deter crime, but it does harm communities, particularly people of color, and lead to overcrowded jails, wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on drug treatment and intervention."