Some lawmakers want to stem the tide of the opiate overdose deaths in the Granite State.

In 2014, there were 255 drug-related deaths, the highest number in recent years, according to N.H. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Thomas.

The second highest year for drug deaths recently was 2011, when 200 people died statewide that year.

"We just blew by that completely," Thomas said.

The numbers could have been higher, if not for naloxone.

Naloxone, under the brand name Narcan, reverses the effects of an opiate-related overdose.

In 2014, Narcan was used about 2,500 to 3,000 times statewide, according to Michael Rogers, an assistant administrator for the N.H Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, a division of the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

Nationwide, Narcan saved about 20,000 lives in 2014, he said.

Statewide, the drug is carried by emergency medical responders. That could change. About two weeks ago, Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed rules and standards that would allow local police to carry Narcan through a special license. If the rules do change, police departments could train officers in Narcan use, but would not be compelled to do so.

Some lawmakers want to expand Narcan's availability even farther, to include friends, family and associates of known drug addicts.

Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester, has proposed legislation which aims to make Narcan available as a prescription through a health-care professional.

Her bill would put Narcan or a similar drug in the hands of friends, family members, and associates of heroin or opiate addicts.

It also would protect a health-care professional who prescribes Narcan in good faith from criminal prosecution or a disciplinary action.

She also has filed a proposal to protect people who call 911 during a drug- or alcohol-related emergency from possession charges.

It also would protect the person experiencing the overdose.

Many parents of addicts, Bouldin said, are "simply desperate to keep their child alive for one more day."

Narcan is safe, cost-effective and nobody can abuse it, Rogers said. The N.H. Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services supports Narcan expansion through prescription, he said.

"At the end of the day," he said, "getting this drug into the hands of individuals that can most rapidly give it to the person in need can save a lot of lives."

Support is far from universal

Bouldin's Narcan bill has 10 other sponsors, including Rep. James Spillane, R-Deerfield.

At first, Spillane said, he had to do some research before backing the bill.

If Narcan is regulated through prescriptions, he said, it could be lifesaving.

"I think that it makes sense to save a life," Spillane said.

Others agree.

"I think making Narcan available is a good idea," Windham police Capt. Michael Caron said.  "Certainly it's proven to save lives."

Someone experienced that firsthand in Windham.

About a week ago, a Massachusetts man driving in Windham crashed his car into a guardrail. Michael Kendall had used heroin about a half hour before the accident and lost consciousness while driving on Interstate 93 southbound.

Derry EMTS revived him using Narcan. He later was arrested on drug charges.

Derry police support expanded Narcan availability — if people are properly trained to administer it.

"You don't give people tools they don't know how to use," Derry police Capt. Vernon Thomas said.

But Salem police prosecutor Jason Grosky is against Narcan by prescription.

"All that does is make it easier for people to abuse themselves with heroin," he said.

Even when someone is revived from a drug overdose with Narcan, Grosky said, it's usually not enough to get someone into a drug treatment program.

The bill may backfire, Grosky said, and could result in more people abusing heroin.

"I think we should stop finding ways to make it easier for people stop abusing themselves with heroin," he said.

Studies from Massachusetts have show Narcan prescription does not increase abuse, Bouldin said, Narcan prescription and training could inform others about the risks of addiction.

"When people were trained in how to deal with risky behavior, how to deal with an overdose," Bouldin said, "they were more informed intellectually about the risk of the behavior."

Massachusetts, 26 other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, according to The Network for Public Health Law.

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee held a public hearing on the Narcan bill Thursday.

"I think the whole bill is a good bill," committee member Rep. Joseph Guthrie, R-Hampstead, said.  "They have the opportunity to get a second chance, if you will."

It's unclear how the committee will vote or when, chairman Rep. Frank Kotowski, R-Hooksett, said.

"I can't say how it's going to come out," he said.

But Kotowski supports it.

"I think it's a very very interesting bill," he said, "and I think it has promise."

Less support for 911 immunity

The 911 immunity proposal appears to have less support than expanding Narcan. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee discussed the 911 bill Thursday.

It would grant a 911 caller and a drug user involved in a medical emergency immunity from possession charges.

Massachusetts and about 21 other states have similar laws.

In his experience, Derry's Thomas said, most people tend to hide drugs or drug paraphernalia after calling 911.

"I'm kind of on the fence about it," committee member Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, said.

The committee could vote on it sometime this week, Welch said.

While he was in favor of protecting the person who calls 911, Welch had some questions granting immunity to the person who is overdosing.

The state Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services is monitoring the legislation, he said.

"There's no clear indication on how the committee is going to vote," he said.

Police chiefs across New Hampshire are against the bill, according to Enfield police Chief Richard Crate, president of the New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs.

Arresting someone can play an important part in the treatment process, he said.

"In a lot of these cases right now," he said, "the actual arrest of some of these addicts (is) helping to get them into treatment."

About eight months ago, he said, a woman was arrested while using heroin and driving in Enfield.  Her arrest was the first step toward recovery, he said.

"We're able to get people into counseling," he said. "And sometimes that arrest is what triggers that treatment."

While Crate is in favor of the Narcan expansion bill, the chiefs association has not weighed in on it officially.

But Bouldin, the sponsor of both bills, remains hopeful they will become law.

"I think the people are ready," she said. "This is what they want."

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