At a March 16th meeting of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, New Hampshire law enforcement officials at both the state and local level voiced their opposition to a bill that would lessen current restrictions on needle exchange programs and legalize residual amounts of heroin found on used syringes.
In New Hampshire, only licensed pharmacists may legally dispense hypodermic needles and syringes, preventing nonprofit and community groups from running needle exchange programs. Additionally, citizens found with syringes containing heroin residue could face up to seven years in prison. The proposed bill would not only reduce the barriers for various groups to run needle exchange programs, but also remove prosecution laws for citizens found with used syringes that contain heroin residue.
Speaking out against the bill, Sandwich Police Chief Douglas Wyman said the arrests of citizens possessing syringes with heroin residue can lead to opportunities for those citizens to be helped, such as mandated drug abuse counseling. However, Wyman said he supports needle exchanges.
Senior Assistant Attorney General James Vera noted that legalizing residual amounts of heroin would create increased obstacles for officers applying for search warrants, as they would not be able to consider the syringes as drug paraphernalia. In turn, law enforcement could not use the syringes as probable cause in arresting drug dealers.
Proponents of the bill noted that, despite current laws, the number of deaths from heroin overdoses in New Hampshire has increased in recent years. Proponents have also said the bill will help reduce the spread of infectious diseases and encourage drug users to turn in dirty needles, as they would no longer have to fear prosecution.
The conflicting views of New Hampshire lawmakers and law enforcement officials are indicative of a national debate on how to handle the United States’s current opioid crisis. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a 200% increase in the amount of opioid-related deaths since 2000. Said the CDC in a 2016 report: “There is a need for continued action to prevent opioid abuse, dependence, and death, improve treatment capacity for opioid use disorders, and reduce the supply of illicit opioids, particularly heroin and illicit fentanyl.”