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N.H. bill aims to cut deaths from overdose

CONCORD, N.H. — In a move aimed at saving lives, New Hampshire lawmakers are considering providing immunity for anyone who calls 911 to report a drug or alcohol emergency and for the people they are calling about.

The Good Samaritan bill that goes before a Senate committee Tuesday would help prevent deaths from overdoses, former state representative Jenn Coffey of Andover said Monday.

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Overdoses can take hours to kill someone, meaning that a call to emergency workers can often prevent death. Many overdoses take place in the presence of others, and Coffey, a first responder, said fear of ­arrest or police involvement causes the majority of witnesses to overdoses 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 are effective in saving lives and raising awareness about overdose prevention.

Drug-related deaths in the state have outnumbered traffic deaths in four of the past five years. The figure was 174 in 2012. In the United States, drug-related deaths doubled in a decade, taking 37,000 lives a year, said the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

Critics argue that making drug arrests is important to polic­ing drug crime, but that should not be the priority when an overdose happens, said Coffey. ‘‘What’s more important, saving people’s lives or filling up our jails?’’ Coffey asked.

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