According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, drug overdose deaths in 2020 had increased by 40 percent over the previous year. Of the nearly 4,000 deaths, 70 percent likely involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Due to the rapid and significant increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in North Carolina, the state legislature passed a bill that went into effect on December 1, 2021 making fentanyl possession in any amount a felony. To help you better understand what this means, our team of Raleigh criminal lawyers is explaining more about what fentanyl is and the charges you may be facing if you are caught in possession of it or distributing it.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that has similar properties to morphine. However, it is up to 100 times more potent and up to 50 times stronger than heroin. While pharmaceutical fentanyl is administered to patients experiencing severe pain, such as after major surgery or to provide relief in late-stage cancer, it is highly regulated. The greater concern is with illicitly manufactured fentanyl which is responsible for the overwhelming majority of fentanyl-related overdoses in North Carolina.
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is made in both a liquid and powder form. It’s cheap to manufacture and makes drugs more powerful and addictive. Because of this, it can be mixed with other drugs very easily, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, plus it can be pressed into pills that look almost identical to other prescription opioids and MDMA. Often, people aren’t aware that the drug they are taking is laced with fentanyl, making overdose more likely.
Charges of Fentanyl Possession & Distribution in NC
Prior to December 1, 2021, in accordance with the North Carolina General Statute 90-90(2)(E) and (H), fentanyl and carfentanil, were classified as Schedule II controlled substances. Thus, possession of fentanyl (in less than 4 grams and less than 100 doses) was a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is still a serious criminal charge of drug possession, punishable with up to 120 days in jail.
However, Session Law 2021-155, Senate Bill 321 revised the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act. While fentanyl and carfentanil, including their salts, esters, and isomers, are still classified as Schedule II controlled substances, possession of it in any amount is punishable as a Class I felony.
Distribution of Fentanyl
Any person who “sells, manufacturers, delivers, transports, or possesses four grams or more” of fentanyl can be charged with drug trafficking.
- 4 to 13.9 grams is a Class F felony
- 14 to 27.9 grams is a Class E felony
- 28 grams or more is a class C felony and a minimum sentence of 225 months in prison.
Federal Charges of Fentanyl Possession & Distribution
North Carolina has harsh penalties for fentanyl possession and trafficking, but it’s also a violation of federal law. Federal law supersedes state law and the Department of Justice can pick up cases from the state, especially if the crime crosses state lines.
If you are arrested by the FBI or DEA and have less than 40 grams of Fentanyl or 10 grams of a fentanyl analog, which is illicitly manufactured fentanyl powder mentioned above, the punishment varies in accordance with other connections and charges. However, 40 grams or more of fentanyl or 10 grams or more of analog carry a minimum charge of five years in federal prison.
You are more likely to be charged with drug trafficking at the federal level, and, like North Carolina law, this charge can be made if you have any amount of fentanyl or analog over 4 grams. That’s why having a federal drug trafficking attorney on your side to help you navigate charges is essential to achieving a more favorable outcome in your case.
Speak with a Defense Attorney in Raleigh 24/7
If you have been arrested or are under investigation for fentanyl possession or distribution, you need an experienced criminal lawyer in Raleigh to advocate on your behalf. In addition to representing clients in cases against the state, we are federal lawyers representing clients in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Reach out to us today at (919) 887-8040 or fill out the form below to schedule a free consultation with our experienced lawyers.