Stein to keynote summit on fentanyl as legislature considers related bills

Attorney General Josh Stein will be the keynote speaker at a “Family Summit on Illicit Fentanyl Fatalities in North Carolina” this Saturday.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid used to manage pain that has become popular in the illicit drug market, is a scourge in North Carolina and across the country, responsible for more than 13,000 deaths in the Old North State over the past nine years.

The gathering is a private event. Stein, who is running for governor, will speak alongside people who have lost loved ones to fentanyl overdoses, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration official and other law enforcement officials. Stein goes on at 12:40, but the event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the McKimmon Conference Center in Raleigh.

Stein recently asked the legislature for money so he could create a Fentanyl Control Unit. The special group within the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions and Law Enforcement Section would help local prosecutors handle big trafficking, wiretap and overdose cases. Special prosecutors with the state’s Department of Justice have previously prosecuted drug traffickers, distributors and dealers.

“Fentanyl is deadly and highly addictive,” Stein said in a statement. “Even as we interdict more fentanyl at the border than ever before, too many North Carolinians overdose from fentanyl and are dying. We must hold those who peddle this poison accountable and take them off our streets. I look forward to working with leaders in the legislature to strengthen our state’s ability to prosecute these cases and save lives.”

More than 70,000 Americans died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021.

Stein is the only state official listed on the summit’s agenda — other speakers include Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats and Harnett and Lee County District Attorney Suzanne Matthews — but addressing fentanyl overdoses has become a bipartisan affair as the number of people die from overdoses continues to increase each year. The legislature is considering a number of bills that would increase prison sentences and fines for people who traffic fentanyl and broaden the state’s “death by distribution” law, which allows people who deal drugs to be charged with second-degree murder if the drugs they sold resulted in a person’s death.

Progressives in states like New Jersey have expressed concern that more punitive drug laws would mean more people struggling with addiction would end up in jail. Others have warned enacting harsher punishments for fentanyl could be the next phase of the War on Drugs, undermining efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

According to a press release for the event, the summit’s goals are to support victims’ families, investigate and prosecute fentanyl dealers and suppliers, develop a training model for prosecutors to uniformly prosecute fentanyl homicides using laws already on the books. They will also advocate for putting Narcan in every school in the state and equipping all police with Naloxone, which quickly reverses overdoses.

Read the original article on the NC Policy Watch web site.

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