RALEIGH, N.C. -- Prosecutors have a new tool to help reduce the number of people dying in North Carolina from opioid overdoses.
On Monday, Governor Roy Cooper signed into law the "death by distribution" act.
It allows prosecutors to charge drug dealers with second-degree murder.
Lawmakers and law enforcement said it is needed to put away high-level drug dealers.
The felony charge for the illegal sale of drugs that results in an overdose death allows for a punishment of up to 40 years in prison.
The bill includes a "Good Samaritan" clause that protects from prosecution doctors who prescribe an opioid for a legitimate medical purpose and pharmacists.
Supporters said it will help fight the opioid epidemic, but critics said it will deter people from calling 911 during an overdose.
From 1999 to 2016 more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services.
New law allows NC drug dealers to be charged with murder