RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As family pictures displayed in front of the podium, Leslie Maynor Locklear wiped away tears while discussing her sons.
"One life is one too many, and in 2022 two lives were my sons," said Locklear, who is from Pembroke.
The deaths happened within a span of nine months, when Locklear's sons - Matthew and Ryan - passed away from fentanyl-related drug overdoses.
In 2021, more than 4,000 North Carolinians died of drug overdoses, the highest mark in state history. According to NCDHHS, 77% of those deaths likely involved fentanyl.
"It doesn't matter who you are, your status, what family you come from, your income level, or where you live or how much you are loved. Addiction can take control of anyone's life. Addiction is a disease and it affects everyone in your family," said Locklear.
Senate Bill 189 calls for stricter penalties against dealers, an expansion of the Good Samaritan Law in an effort to encourage people call 911, and the creation of a task force to aid law enforcement in cracking down on the importation, distribution, and manufacturing of fentanyl, heroin, and other similar controlled substances.
"We make it where an individual who sells these drugs and pushes these drugs in our community would be subject to severe, very severe punishment. They can be prosecuted as a B2 felony, which is second-degree murder. We also make it where someone who distributes these drugs - can be punishable under a Class C felony," said Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican who represents Hoke, Robeson, and Scotland counties, and is a primary co-sponsor of the bill.
"If there's ever been a bipartisan bill in the state of North Carolina, this one is it," added Sheriff Charles Blackwood, a Democrat who serves in Orange County and is President of the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.
In 2022, the DEA seized more than 50 million fentanyl-laced pills.
"We hold our loved ones in addiction accountable for their actions, and we need to have stricter penalties for those who prey on our loved ones during their weakest moments," said Angie Todd, Director of the Onslow County chapter of Families of Addicts.
"It's a tragedy that fentanyl and opioids what they've completely done to our local communities to the people we so dearly love and to our neighbors," added Sen. Michael Lazzara, a Republican who represents Onslow County who is also a primary co-sponsor.
Several speakers addressed the value and importance of Narcan in saving lives; while this legislation does not include funding for the medication, Britt said there is an emphasis in continuing to provide separate money to aid local departments in this regard.
"We're going to put whatever we can in the budget to ensure that all the tools are there so that law enforcement can do what they need to do, so this task force that's created in this bill can do what it needs to do to target those people and let them know. If you're out there pushing fentanyl in our communities, we're coming after you, and we're going to come after you together," said Britt.
The bill passed its first reading in the Senate. If it ultimately becomes law, it would go into effect on December 1 of this year.
"I owe it to my boys to fight for them, and to support every measure that I can to stem the flow of illegal drugs, to punish the people who sell them, and to stop every person I can from ever trying them," said Locklear.