After fentanyl overdose death, NC woman gets 15 years in prison for selling drugs

File image: Pressed pills containing the opioid fentanyl, seized by Chester County, S.C. deputies on Dec. 22, 2021. A Charlotte Observer investigation recently showed how police and courts face challenges to crack down on drug dealers under a new law called “death by distribution.” (Chester County Sheriff's Office)

A North Carolina woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing the drugs — fentanyl in particular — that led to the overdoses of multiple people and the death of at least one.

Victoria Kerrigan Irby, 26, of Brevard, was sentenced in federal court by Judge Max Cogburn on Monday, according to a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice. She pleaded guilty earlier this year to possession with intent to distribute heroin, marijuana, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and a quantity of buprenorphine. As part of her plea, Irby admitted to knowingly and intentionally distributing a mixture or substance that contained fentanyl to an individual who died as a result of the drug.

Irby was convicted and sentenced on federal trafficking offenses and not under North Carolina’s relatively new death by distribution law. The act of selling someone the drug that kills them became a felony known as death by distribution in the state in 2019.

As an investigation from The Charlotte Observer’s revealed just this week, overdose deaths are particularly difficult to prosecute. Out of just under 100 cases of death by distribution charges, only six have so far led to convictions.

Fentanyl overdose is becoming increasingly common in North Carolina, and fentanyl itself is the most common drug distributed in Charlotte because other drugs are laced with it, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officials say. Fentanyl-related overdoses increased 30% from 2020 to 2021 in North Carolina, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Irby distributed narcotics in and around Buncombe County, according to court records.

Between 2018 and 2019, multiple of her customers overdosed after taking pure and mixed fentanyl and Irby had to revive them, court records show. In May 2019, according to prosecutors, one of those overdose victims died.

“Irby’s conduct of continuing to sell fentanyl she knew was causing her customers to overdose and her continuing to sell fentanyl even after the fentanyl death occurred was particularly troubling,” Cogburn said in the release.