WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Federal authorities gathered in Wilmington Monday to unveil a new initiative to combat drug and violent crime in southeastern North Carolina.
The goal is to take North Carolina back from criminals, drug dealers and doctors who over-prescribe pills.
Authorities said the ongoing opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in history, explaining that one person dies every nine minutes from an overdose.
For perspective, that accounts for half of the Wilmington population in one year. In North Carolina, an average of three people die every day from a drug overdose.
Violent crime rates have also increased across the country by 7 percent from 2014 to 2017, and the murder rate went up by 20 percent. There were 759 violent crimes reported in Wilmington in 2016.
"My goal and the goal of every sheriff, every chief of police, and every elected district attorney, is to see the crime rate go down, the overdose deaths dramatically reduced, to see fewer people who need it, and to see the communities safer and more secure for every citizen of eastern North Carolina," said United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr.
The Take Back North Carolina Initiative plans to bring the full weight and resources of the federal court system in the fight against crime for counties that partner with law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office.
Authorities are making changes to ensure local prosecutors have a federal point person they can contact to review cases and help develop ways to prosecute them in federal court.
Additionally, anyone carrying a gun who is convicted of a drug offense can expect to see a minimum five-year sentence. If they discharge the firearm, offenders can expect to see an additional 10 years on their sentence.
A 14-day plea deadline will also be implemented in every case to make sure there is no backlog in the court system. No deals will be struck after the deadline.
If a crime is committed against a law enforcement officer, it will take priority in federal court.