New bill would hold dealers responsible if their drugs cause death

RALEIGH, N.C. — There's a new push to hold dealers responsible if their drugs cause someone to die.

[ALSO READ: New data shows increase in North Carolina opioid deaths]

Lawmakers are expected to file a bill in Raleigh Wednesday morning that would give harsher penalties to drug dealers when their clients die from using their products.

The new charge dealers could face would be called death by distribution, and it’s sponsored by a handful of lawmakers, including Mecklenburg County Sen. Dan Bishop.

[ALSO READ: Opioid deaths rise in South Carolina 47 percent in 3 years]

Prosecutors say without the bill it's hard to punish dealers who sell drugs that kill users because, although the dealer can be charged with second-degree murder, it's hard to prove the person acted maliciously.

[ALSO READ: Opioid deaths are now more common than car crashes, researchers say]

The bill is targeted at opioid dealers, but it also includes meth and cocaine dealers.

On the other side of the bill, critics worry tougher punishments would stop people from calling 911.

Opponents argue many low-level drug dealers are also addicts and need treatment and help, not a prison sentence.

[ALSO READ: Local mayor, US representative announces 'kits' to deactivate, break down opioids]

The bill is the latest effort in the fight against opioids, and there is a sense of urgency around the debate because nearly 2,000 people died in North Carolina last year from unintentional opioid overdoses, which is a 34 percent increase from 2016.