On July 8, 2019, NC Governor Roy Cooper signed into law the “Death by Distribution” Act, NCGS § 14-18.4. The new statute is intended to address the increasing number of deaths stemming from the current opioid epidemic. Under the new law, a drug dealer may be prosecuted for the death of an individual who bought certain specified controlled substances and the death was a result of the drug use. The defendant does not have to “act with malice” in order to be convicted of the charge. The Act becomes effective December 1, 2019, and applies to offenses committed on or after that date

Death by distribution is either a Class B1 or Class C felony offense, depending on the prior criminal history of the defendant and a conviction would carry an extensive prison sentence. The statute contains limited “good samaritan” immunity in certain circumstances for those that contact 911 for medical assistance in the event of an overdose as well language that exempts the lawful distribution of prescription drugs.

With the increased attention paid to the nationwide opioid problem and the passage of the Death by Distribution statute, prosecutors are likely to take a hard stance on drug related deaths if the source of the drugs can be identified. According to the NC Department of Health and Human Services, from 1999 to 2016, more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses. North Carolina lawmakers, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers alike are calling the new law a great victory to combat the opioid epidemic sweeping the state.

Drug-related laws, regulations, and enforcement practices are constantly changing with the landscape of North Carolina. If you or someone you know has questions regarding the increased penalties imposed by the Act, or drug-related offenses in general, please don’t hesitate to contact the attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard.