NH Governor Signs Bill Granting Immunity for Victims, Witnesses Reporting Drug Overdoses

A new law signed Monday by New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan allows individuals in the state to report drug overdoses without facing criminal prosecution for drug possession.

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On Monday, New Hampshire Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan signed House Bill 270 into law, a bill designed to “encourage a witness or victim of a drug overdose to request medical assistance in order to save the life of an overdose victim by establishing a state policy of protecting the witness or victim from arrest, prosecution, and conviction for the crime of possession of the controlled drug that is the agent of the overdose.

Under the law, individuals “who in good faith and in a timely manner [request] medical assistance” for themselves or others “shall not be arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for possessing, or having under his or her control, a controlled drug… if the evidence for the charge was gained as a proximate result of the request for medical assistance.

In a statement on the bill, Governor Hassan said, “The rising rate of heroin and opioid overdoses is one of the most pressing public health and safety challenges facing our state.” She continued, “House Bill 270 will… help us save lives by encouraging people to seek emergency medical assistance for themselves or others without fearing prosecution for possession. And through our efforts with legislators from both parties, we developed a narrower bill to address some of the concerns of the Attorney General’s Office and the law enforcement community. I thank Representative Bouldin and the bipartisan group of legislators who worked this session to help us save more lives in the midst of this opioid epidemic.

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Seabrook Police Department’s Acting Lieutenant Brett Walker told The Daily News of Newburyport, “This is an age old problem. People in the presence of an overdose victim sometimes won’t call us right away. They’ll wait and clean up the place before they call. Then, when we get there, we find the place clean and it can take a lot of coaxing to get them to tell us the person used heroin or other drugs.” Lieutenant Walker said that he hopes that the new law will help clarify that police and first responders in drug overdose situations “are trying to save lives and not trick anyone” into self-incrimination.

The Associated Press notes that the bill, which is set to take effect in 60 days, is designed to sunset on September 1, 2018.

House Bill 270 prevailed in bipartisan fashion, passing first in New Hampshire’s GOP-led House of Representatives and Senate before being signed by the state’s Democratic governor.

This law, referred to as the ‘good Samaritan law,’ is important because it encourages individuals present during an opioid or heroin overdose to call for life-saving medical assistance for overdose victims, granting them immunity from arrest in these instances. The intent of this law is to save the lives of overdose victims and this legislation takes another step towards addressing the heroin and opioid crisis that has affected communities across the state… I hope the legislature will continue to bring forward long-term solutions to end this critical drug epidemic in our state,” said State Senator Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry) in comments to the Londonderry Patch.

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