RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Advocates and law enforcement in the fight against opioids in North Carolina are calling a new piece of legislation a major victory. On Thursday, Governor Cooper signed a revised version of SB 189 into law, establishing harsher penalties for people who traffic and provide bad drugs.
Under the revised bill, which treats death by distribution as a Class C felony, drug traffickers and people whose drugs result in others dying will face more serious jail time. It also makes charging those people easier, no longer requiring prosecutors to prove a transaction, just that the drugs were "delivered".
"What this means is the families who worked to help change the law for the better won. And it means that anyone who loses a loved one in the future faces a better chance of justice," said Barbara Walsh, Executive Director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina.
Walsh lost her daughter, Sophia, to fentanyl in August 2021, and founded the Victims Network to help impacted families get justice -- and to advocate for legislation like the revised SB 189.
"You get this information from law enforcement, and it's disbelief. You just kind of go into shock and you go into a really black hole and you stay there for a while and some people never come out," said Walsh.
Lynelle Esposito knows that feeling, too.
"It's difficult. I just look at my daughter, and it's hard," Esposito said. She lost her daughter, Gabriela, to fentanyl at a party near NC State in October of 2021. Now, she's fighting for legislation like this, too.
"I just want Gabriela to know I'm not giving up, I'm not a quitter," Esposito said.
Law enforcement officers are calling the revised bill a game changer. Eddie Caldwell represents the NC Sheriffs' Association and believes it won't only act as a deterrent for those selling and trafficking drugs -- it will save lives.
"We may never know exactly how many lives were saved, but doesn't matter if we save one life -- that's important to that person and important to their family," Caldwell said.