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North Carolina investigators announce new tools to fight opioid epidemic as overdoses spike

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C.- Law enforcement officials in Northeastern North Carolina say they've seen enough. Because the drug problem is so bad, they say it's time for a renewed effort to fight back.

"We are taking North Carolina back from drug dealers and violent criminals," said Robert Higdon, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Wednesday, he joined with local sheriffs and police chiefs in announcing the steps they're taking to stop the drug epidemic, including assigning federal prosecutors specific geographic areas, charging people with the most serious crimes and setting a deadline to make plea deals of 14 days.

"I'm not interested in filling up the federal prison system with eastern North Carolinians," Higdon said. "My goal and the goal of every sheriff and chief of police and every district attorney is to see the crime rate go down."  The focus is also on doctors. They say some are prescribing too many opioids or doing it illegally.

Recently, Northeastern North Carolina has seen a spike in drug overdoses. There have been more than 70 overdose calls in just the first four months of 2018 in Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County. By comparison to 2017, the numbers are on pace to double or maybe even triple. "I've never seen a drug problem this severe in almost 30 years of my law enforcement career," said Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe, Jr.

The FBI has opened an office in the area again. The investigators say they won't rest until a decrease in the numbers. "If you're peddling poison in the Eastern District of North Carolina, you're going to prison," said Andrew Womble, the local District Attorney.