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Murphy heading opioid sentencing reform task force

072217 Greg Murphy

Greg Murphy

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Pitt County representative is heading a legislative task force charged with exploring sentencing reforms for opioid crimes.

Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, was selected by N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to co-chair the Task Force on Sentencing Reforms for Opioid Drug Convictions.

Murphy, who also is a urologist, has become a state leader in battling opioid addiction. He was the chief sponsor of the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention, also called STOP, Act signed into law in June. It strengthens oversight and tightens supervision on opioid prescriptions, increases access to naloxone and allows local governments to support needle exchange programs.

Reducing the state’s opioid problem requires a multi-pronged approach, Murphy said.

“We have worked hard on the delivery side, from physicians and providers and cutting the numbers coming in this way. We also have to work on the illicit fentanyl side, the type of delivery that is coming from China. But there is another component, and that is the criminal component,” Murphy said.

“I’ve said many times we can not put everybody in jail because of this. It fills up our jails, it doesn’t rehab the individuals and it just continues the circle of disaster these individuals are in,” he said.

The task force is charged with examining how the judicial system handles cases related to opioid abuse, the sentencing requirements, the results when a person serves a prison sentence, and the recidivism rate.

“We are going to look and see if we can come up with a smarter, more intelligent pathway to punish the individuals, but the main goal will be to rehabilitate them and stop them from repeating this cycle of despair,” Murphy said.

Too often addicted individuals enter the system, require treatment for withdrawal symptoms but without rehabilitation therapy they return to drugs upon release and the cycle begins again, Murphy said.

“The state spends millions and million on the prison system each year and I think it’s time we became intelligent on how to better spend those resources not only towards rehabilitation but cost savings. It will be a win-win for both of those aspects of the situation,” he said.

There are seven proposals the task force will study:

• The advisability of reducing sentences imposed under structured sentencing for opioid drug convictions based on the case facts and records of incarcerated inmates.

• Potential cost-savings and fiscal effect of an early-release process for inmates convicted of opioid drug offenses.

• Identify and consider sentencing options that will help restore the ability of judges to use judgment, logic, and facts when imposing a sentence for a conviction of an opioid drug offense.

• Consider whether the mandatory sentences imposed under structured sentencing for convictions of opioid drug offenses serve as a deterrent.

• Consider options such as reclassifying opioid drug offenses, allowing courts to divert convicted offenders into treatment programs in lieu of imposing a sentence of active time in prison, increasing weight thresholds for trafficking in opioids or changing how quantities are measured, aligning minimum mandatory sentence lengths with those for most other drug offenses.

• Consider establishing a "pardon and parole board" that may recommend pardons and paroles for inmates convicted of opioid drug offenses.

• Possible study of other options.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, is the Senate co-chairman. Sen. Louis, Pate, R-Wayne, who also represents Pitt County, is serving as a Senate member on the committee. Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, is the House member. Eighteen other individuals representing various state agencies, the courts, law enforcement and health care also have been appointed. The task force’s work will take at least a year, he said, but he hopes to present a produce by late 2018.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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