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Are you guilty of death by distribution?

If you recently lost a loved one, friend or acquaintance due to a drug-induced overdose, it may surprise you to learn that the state can charge you with homicide. Specifically, if the state learns you distributed the drugs to the deceased, it could charge you with “death by distribution.”

According to the General Assembly of North Carolina, Session Law 2019-83 House Bill 474, the state passed the death by distribution law because the previous 20 years saw a drastic increase in the number of opioid-related deaths. The purpose of the law is to deter individuals from illegally distributing opioids and further exacerbating the opioid epidemic.

Death by distribution of certain controlled substances

Per the General Assembly, people should only be able to access opioids through a prescription from a certified practitioner and for legitimate medical reasons only. If you are not a certified practitioner, and/or if you distributed opioids for non-medical purposes and without writing a prescription, the state may charge you with death by distribution. To prove you are guilty of this offense, the state must prove the existence of four elements:

  • You unlawfully sold at least one certain controlled substance
  • The ingestion of the substance caused the death of the user
  • Your commission of the first element was the proximate cause of the user’s death
  • You did not act with malice

Certain controlled substances, for the purposes of this law, include any opiate, opium, opioid or a derivative of either; a depressant as described in related statutes; methamphetamine; cocaine or another controlled substance; or a mixture of either of these. This offense is a Class C felony.

Aggravated death by distribution

If you have a previous drug crime conviction, a trafficking violation or any similar state or federal level conviction on your record, the state may charge you with aggravated death by distribution. The offense, however, must have taken place within seven years of the date of the most recent charge. An aggravated offense is a Class B2 felony.