Residents in North Carolina may have heard that according to some our nation is under the grip of an opioid epidemic. In 2016, North Carolina saw just under 480 deaths involving fentanyl — approximately two times as many in 2015. And, after three people in North Carolina passed away due to an opioid overdose, including a 16-year-old girl, state prosecutors have decided to prosecute the reported drug dealers with second-degree murder, rather than the usual drug charges.

In a one situation, a 40-year-old man is facing second-degree murder charges after a woman died of an overdose. In the instance involving the aforementioned death of the sixteen-year-old girl, she and a 23-year-old man died from an apparent drug overdose. Reportedly the cocaine they ingested contained fentanyl, a painkiller 50 times stronger than heroin. The woman who reportedly provided them with the drugs is also being charged with murder.

This trend of prosecuting drug dealers with homicide, rather than traditional drug charges is gaining steam across the nation, especially in the wake of the reported opioid epidemic. Usually, if an individual in North Carolina is suspected of selling another person drugs, that individual would face drug charges and if found guilty, would be sentenced to approximately five years in prison. However, being convicted of murder in the second degree could mean life in prison.

However, the trend of prosecuting drug dealers with homicide, instead of prosecuting them for drug crimes may be troubling for some. In the end, it is important that the punishment fit the crime and that prosecutors don’t overreach in trying to send a message to the public about drug dealing. Those who are facing criminal charges associated with opioids would be well-served to seek legal advice, so their rights are not infringed upon by overzealous prosecutors.

Source: The Virginian Pilot, “3 opioid overdose deaths in 2 weeks lead N.C. prosecutors to pursue murder charges,” Jeff Hampton, June 16, 2017