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N.H. bill aims to prevent drug, alcohol overdoses

In a move aimed at saving lives, New Hampshire lawmakers want to provide immunity for anyone who calls 911 to report a drug or alcohol emergency and for the people they’re calling about.

The Good Samaritan bill that goes before a Senate committee today would help prevent deaths from overdoses, first responder and former state Rep. Jenn Coffey of Andover said yesterday.

Overdoses can take hours to kill someone, meaning a call to emergency workers can often prevent death. Many overdoses take place in the presence of others, and Coffey said fear of arrest or police involvement causes the majority of witnesses to hesitate or do nothing.

People who seek help for someone who has overdosed would be exempt from limited drug and alcohol possession offenses under the bill, which the House has passed. Nine other states including Rhode Island and Connecticut have similar laws, and Coffey said they’re effective in saving lives and raising awareness about overdose prevention.

“It gives us a chance to save that person’s life,” Coffey said. “If they’re too afraid to call, we can’t help them.”

Drug-related deaths in New Hampshire have outnumbered traffic deaths in four of the past five years. The figure was 174 in 2012. In the United States, the drug-related death toll has doubled over the past decade, claiming 37,000 lives each year, according to the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

Critics argue that making drug arrests is important to policing drug crime. But that shouldn’t be the priority when an overdose happens, said Coffey, who sponsored similar legislation while in the House.

“What’s more important, saving people’s lives or filling up our jails?” Coffey asked.

Not all similar laws in other states include provisions for alcohol-related emergencies, but Coffey said it’s important because fear of arrest often stops young people who are drinking underage from dialing 911 if someone drank too much.

The bill does not extend immunity to someone dealing drugs or providing alcohol to minors.

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