July 9 (UPI) -- North Carolina has enacted a new law that allows prosecutors to charge drug dealers with murder in overdose deaths.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed the "Death by Distribution" bill into law Monday, which creates a new criminal offense designed to stem the rise in opioid overdoses. In addition to opiates, deaths by cocaine and methamphetamine are also punishable under the new law.
The new offenses are death by distribution, and aggravated death by distribution. The latter could result in a 40-year sentence, and for former 19 years. The charges are similar to second-degree murder, but prosecutors do not have to prove malice.
To convict on the lesser charge, a defendant must have unlawfully sold at least one controlled substance outlined in the law and the user must've died from overdose. It's also required the drug's distribution was the proximate cause of death. To meet the higher standard, prosecutors also must show a prior trafficking conviction or another conviction within the last seven years.
The new law includes a Good Samaritan clause to protect doctors and pharmacists who prescribe drugs for a legitimate medical purpose.
Supporters say the new homicide charges should help deter drug dealers. Critics like the American Civil Liberties Union worry the charges may actually increase deaths, by discouraging users from calling for help during an overdose.
"The bill's overcriminalization of drug overdoses would lead to less reportings and more deaths," it said in a statement.