Heroin Addiction: Law Enforcement
Heroin is considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The full text of laws relating to heroin and other drug crimes in New Hampshire can be found here.
Maximum allowable penalties are determined based on the quantity of heroin involved in the crime, with amounts in excess of 5 grams incurring the toughest sentences. Penalties are doubled if the offense is committed within 1,000 feet of a school.
Penalty for heroin-related deaths
NH law includes a provision that holds a person who manufactures, sells, or dispenses heroin liable for any death that results from use of that drug. Offenders can potentially be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mandatory minimum sentences in NH
New Hampshire has only one mandatory minimum sentence related to heroin, which specifies that a person convicted as “a drug enterprise leader” must receive a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, with a maximum of life imprisonment. Drug enterprise leaders are defined as those who conspire with more than one person to manufacture, sell, or otherwise dispense a Schedule I or II controlled substance.
It is legal in New Hampshire for health care professionals to prescribe the drug Narcan or its equivalent, which helps reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, to at-risk people or their family members, friends, or other individuals potentially in a position to assist them in case of an overdose. Those individuals are permitted to store and dispense the drug to someone suffering from an overdose.
New Hampshire law also protects individuals who call emergency services for assistance for drug overdose victims. Both witnesses of a drug overdose and those who are themselves overdosing may request medical assistance without being subject to arrest or prosecution.
Drug and mental health courts
Drug and mental health courts are specialized judicial programs designed to handle cases involving drug and alcohol dependency or mental illness. Drug courts tend to focus on treatment and rehabilitation through close monitoring and graduated sanctions and incentives, rather than conventional prison sentences. They are seen as an alternative to the traditional justice system, though opinions vary on whether they effectively address underlying substance abuse problems or are too lenient on offenders. Legislation creating a statewide drug court system was passed in June 2016.
Additional law enforcement initiatives considered or implemented in other states as a means of combating heroin abuse include:
- Instituting higher penalties or mandatory minimum sentences for high-volume traffickers
- Reducing penalties for possession of smaller quantities of heroin, replacing prison sentences with mandatory treatment
- Creating drug-free zones with higher potential penalties in the vicinity of drug treatment centers or methadone clinics.
- More strictly defining the quantities of heroin that constitute “intent to sell” by someone who possesses them.
"NH should strengthen penalties for heroin-related offenses."
- Heroin addiction fuels crime, which makes it a public safety issue. Responding to such crime with treatment only and not punishment is unfair to victims.
- Stricter sentences serve as a deterrent to those who might consider using or selling heroin.
- Tougher penalties for heroin-related offenses would enable law enforcement officials to crack down on abusers and dealers, taking them off the streets.
- Putting addicts in jail forces them to get treatment they might not otherwise receive.
"NH should maintain or reduce penalties for heroin-related offenses."
- Strict laws channel addicts into the prison system, where they do not necessarily receive the treatment they need to break the cycle of addiction and recidivism.
- The resources currently devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning minor drug offenders would be more effective if redirected to treatment, which is a better solution to the problem of drug abuse.
- Harsh potential penalties make drug users less likely to seek help.
- Focusing on treatment for addicts instead of putting them into the prison system would be most cost-effective for taxpayers.