The following OpEd is from the Oct 9 edition of the Carolina Journal.
While most of North Carolina’s political observers have been focused on the long-awaited completion of the state budget, there have also been other bills progressing through the legislature — like SB 189, Fentanyl Drug Offenses and Other Related Changes, which increases fines and penalties for distributing the drug and sets up a task force to come up with new law enforcement strategies.
The bill aims to crack down on fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids, a positive step in an environment where over 100,000 people per year are dying of drug overdoses, including over 4,000 North Carolinians. The explosion of these deaths, which used to total around 5,000 people annually nationwide before the new millennium, has made it now the leading cause of death for adults 18-45, higher than other major causes like car accidents or heart disease. Over 70% of overdose deaths are due to fentanyl, an opioid so powerful many immediately overdose and die when they try it for the first time.
State Sens. Tom McInnis, Danny Britt, and Michael Lazzara introduced the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in March. This week, SB 189 also passed the House, albeit with 20 Democrats voting against. Now the bill heads to the governor for his signature or veto, and at least some on the left think he should choose the latter.
Before the House vote was taken, a coalition of “harm reduction” advocates, including the NC Council of Churches, sent out a press release denouncing the bill.
“Amid State’s Worsening Overdose Crisis, Harm Reduction Advocates Argue SB189 Will Fuel Deaths and Systemic Racism,” the statement begins.
To back the claim that arresting fentanyl dealers will increase overdose deaths, the harm reducers say, “Prosecuting dealers disrupts the drug supply, leading to more preventable overdose deaths.”
This, clearly, ignores the fact that fentanyl dealing is already highly illegal, so supplies are already disrupted when they are arrested. Increasing the fines and penalties on dealers isn’t going to make much difference on that front. But it might act as a deterrent and reduce supply.
The study they cite, from NC State, looked at Haywood County after the original death-by-distribution law was implemented. Either those sending the press release didn’t read it, or they hoped the reader wouldn’t. But the study found the impact of the law was actually a lowering of overdose risk (because dealers lowered potency to avoid the serious charge) in the short term. The study did say there was a possibility of a greater risk in the longer term, but they were unsure, so their biggest takeaway was, “Our study demonstrates most conclusively that further research on the individual and community-level impacts of DIH laws is urgently needed.”
Harm-reduction proponents are fond of calling all their claims “evidence based,” but I’ve found their evidence to be paper thin, like this claim that “prosecuting dealers lead[s] to more deaths” with the study saying mostly the opposite as proof.
After presenting their weak evidence, they go on to demand action based on it: “It is time for lawmakers to recognize the failings of the Drug War, and come to the realization that we cannot punish our way out of the overdose crisis.”