WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - State lawmakers unveiled a new bill Wednesday aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic in North Carolina.
State Attorney General Josh Stein met with law enforcement representatives in Wilmington Thursday morning to go over details of the bill.
"This is a crisis by all measures, this is like a foreign invader coming in and killing three North Carolinians a day, how long would it take to declare war? One day," District Attorney Ben David said.
According to Stein, 64,000 people died in the United States in 2017 from the opioid epidemic, which is more than the number of people killed in the Vietnam War.
Officials say the HOPE Act, formally the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Enforcement Act, will "ensure that law enforcement officers have all the tools they need to adequately confront the opioid epidemic."
"We are on the front lines," said Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous. "Everyday, we see people died on streets. It's horrible and affects too many families."
"At the end of the day, we want to protect our families," agreed Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith. "...This bill helps treatment. The jail is no place for an addict, but sometimes it's the only choice we have."
Specifically, the legislation will:
- strengthen consequences for healthcare workers who steal, dilute, or substitute a patient’s drugs;
- give trained investigators appropriate access to prescription data and records to improve investigations;
- fund an additional SBI special agent to coordinate local drug investigators;
- expand and strengthen the Controlled Substances Reporting System by adding data on veterinary drugs, National Provider Identifier information, and the name and ID of a person receiving Schedule II or III drugs;
- clarify that fentanyl trafficking is covered by our drug trafficking statutes;
- invest $10 million a year in community-based drug treatment and recovery services;
- invest $1 million a year in naloxone to protect law enforcement officers and the citizens they serve;
- invest $160,000 in Operation Medicine Drop to safely destroy unneeded prescription drugs.
"The HOPE Act closes loop holes and addresses our medical providers. They need to stop putting pockets of pills away that end up on the streets," David said. "That is a felony."
David said being charged with death by distribution will now be a crime more serious than a bank robbery.
"It will put them in jail for a minimum of ten years," David explained.
If it passes, we could see the effects of the bill in our area later this year.
Go to www.wect.com/opioids for more stories on the opioid epidemic in North Carolina.