- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As drug-related deaths climb in New Hampshire, lawmakers are considering a bill that would give people who report overdoses immunity from criminal prosecution in certain situations.

“A lot of people die because nobody called 911, and that’s somebody’s kid,” said Democratic Rep. Amanda Bouldin of Manchester, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Somebody misses that person and wishes they were still alive.”

At least 311 people in New Hampshire died from drug overdoses in 2014, according to the state medical examiner’s office. Ninety-two of the deaths involved heroin and 135 involved fentanyl. So far in 2015, at least 31 people have died from drug overdoses but many more cases are still under investigation. There is broad agreement that more must be done to curb the epidemic, but law enforcement officers say any type of amnesty bill must be written carefully to ensure dealers or people committing violent acts while on drugs do not get a free pass.

“We’re not in the business of condemning people to die. The chiefs do recognize the severity of the problem,” said Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein, speaking for the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

A Senate committee is meeting Tuesday to take testimony on the bill, which already passed the House. A narrower Senate bill was sent back to the committee for further consideration earlier this year. The House bill aims to keep people who report overdose incidents from being charged with possession of a controlled drug when police respond. Under the bill, the person who calls for medical assistance must be caring for the individual who needs it and remain on scene until emergency responders arrive in order to get immunity.

Twenty-two states have some type of drug immunity law for people who call 911, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The House effort initially aimed to provide immunity for alcohol-related calls as well, but lawmakers are leaving that piece out for now.

The proposal comes on the heels of the state announcing last month it would offer training to police officers on how to use life-saving doses of an antidote to people who overdose on heroin, painkillers and other opioids. Previously, only EMTs with 100 hours of training could administer Naloxone, better known by its trademark Narcan.

Assistant Attorney General James Vara backed the Senate bill because it had clearer language and he said he hopes to see the House bill face similar changes. He worries, for example, that language in the bill could allow dealers or people who engage in sexual assault while using drugs to gain immunity if they call the police.

And Goldstein, the Franklin chief, said that sometimes entering the criminal justice system is the jolt that addicts need to turn their situations around.

New Futures, a drug and alcohol abuse prevention group, backs the bill but said the state also needs to provide more resources for substance abuse disorder treatment.

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