Shows packets of whte methamphetamine piled on the hood of a dark blue car.
An Oklahoma narcotics agent displays 20 pounds of Mexican crystal meth seized from a drug dealer. As federal, state and local health officials focus on the opioid epidemic, the supply and use of methamphetamine is surging in Oklahoma and other Western, Midwestern and Southern states. Courtesy of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics

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By Taylor Knopf

Around 77 North Carolinians died last year from street drugs that are not illegal in this state, according to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein.

That’s because opioid drug traffickers creatively tweak the makeup of the drugs. When forensic analysts examine these synthetic opioids they find they’re not on North Carolina’s list of illegal substances. So, district attorneys end up letting some drug dealers walk because of it.

The “Synthetic Opioid and Other Dangerous Drug Control Act,” or House Bill 464, would resolve that problem by making all chemically altered fentanyl products illegal. The bill passed the North Carolina House and will be heard on the Senate floor this week.

“I was told by law enforcement that we can’t [prosecute] because our information about these drugs has not been applied to the laws yet,” said bill sponsor Sen. Tom McInnis (R-Rockingham) at a press conference in March.

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“They are so new. They are all synthetic. They’ve been manipulated by chemists in foreign lands. They’ve been transferred to this country via overnight mail, and we’ve got a problem,” McInnis added. “We are prepared to make the laws where prison time is a reality, not a fallacy.”

Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger spoke at the March event about how “craftiness and ingenuity” has been used to circumvent North Carolina laws.

“It’s hard to imagine that just by tweaking the chemical formula, they can elude prosecution, and they do it,” she said. “We find the targets, bring them in, we get our lab sheet back from our wonderful state crime lab, only to find out that the drugs that were seized don’t count in North Carolina right now.”

State Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Schurmeier said he’s been dealing with designer drugs since the 1970s, but has never seen the explosion of synthetic opioids like the one that started in 2014.

“Let me send a message to North Carolina,” Schurmeier said at the March press conference. “The agents of the SBI will unapologetically go after the people that violate this bill if it’s passed. We will chase them down to the ends of the earth to put them in jail where they belong. For those using the drugs, we encourage them to get help.”

Rose Hoban

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...