Heroin Addiction: Law Enforcement

Citizens Count Editor

In Brief:

  • Penalties for heroin-related offenses are linked to the quantity of the drug involved in the crime, with higher sanctions for offenses near schools and heroin-related deaths.
  • New Hampshire allows at-risk individuals and those close to them to administer the overdose-reversing drug Narcan. Overdose victims or those attending to them may also request emergency services without being liable to arrest or prosecution. 
  • Pro: Tougher penalties deter abuse and get addicts off the streets, reducing crime. 
  • Con: The resources devoted to law enforcement would be better used for treatment, a more cost-effective response to addiction that reduces the likelihood of reoffending. 

Issue Facts: 

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. 

Overdose Drugs
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. 

Policy Recommendations

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.

Related issues

Heroin Addiction: Treatment Funding
Prescription Drug Abuse


"For" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

"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.


"Against" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

"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. 


Killed in the House

Adds illicit drugs and drug paraphernalia to the drug take-back programs.

Killed in the House

Reduces the penalty for first offense drug possession charges to a misdemeanor.

Killed in the House

Reduces the penalty for many drug possession charges from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Killed in the House

Authorizes community-based needle exchange programs and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules for such programs.

Signed by Governor

Legalizes trace amounts of drugs in needles, and authorizes persons other than pharmacists to dispense hypodermic syringes and needles. This bill would allow needle exchange programs.

Killed in the House

Expands the type of public functions for which a person must request a police detail and allows police officers from counties or state agencies to serve as such detail.

Killed in the House

Allows a charge of manslaughter for selling heroin or fentanyl if the user dies.

Killed in the House

If a first responder administers Narcan to a youth age 14-17 for an overdose, this bill requires the state to assess whether the youth should be placed at the Sununu Youth Services Center.

Signed by Governor

Appropriates $1,155,000 to hire five state troopers assigned to drug enforcement on the state border. This bill also appropriates $3,340,000 for state and local law enforcement and the state lab for overtime related to drug enforcement.

Signed by Governor

Creates a penalty for escaping from administrative confinement or court-mandated treatment programs.

Signed by Governor

Establishes the statewide drug court grant program.

Killed in the House

Creates an offender registry for individuals with three or more drug dealing convictions.

Killed in the House

Adds fentanyl to the list of controlled drugs penalized under the controlled drug act.

Killed in the House

Establishes a registry for individuals with heroin related convictions, similar to the sex offender registry.

Signed by Governor

Prohibits the manufacture, sale, and possession of premixed synthetic urine to defeat a drug or alcohol screening test.

Died in Conference Committee

Establishes a grant program to assist state, county, and local law enforcement agencies in addressing the state’s opioid crisis.  The House amended the bill to also revise premium contribution amounts for retired state employees.

Signed by Governor

This bill includes many regulations aimed at combating heroin and prescription drug abuse. For example, this bill increases the penalties for abusing fentanyl and provides funding for an upgrade to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

Tabled in the House

Establishes a criminal penalty for the possession, sale, or use of kratom by anyone under age 18.

Interim Study

Makes a general fund appropriation of $2 million to the Housing Finance Authority to fund supportive housing for persons with substance use disorders.

Signed by Governor

As originally written, this bill included various measures related to drug addiction, such as adding fentanyl to drug laws. The Senate amended the bill to instead revise the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery and make additional appropriations for drug abuse prevention and treatment.

Signed by Governor

Authorizes $1.5 million in grants for local law enforcement to fight heroin trafficking, as part of Operation Granite Hammer.

Should NH increase law enforcement policies and penalties for heroin-related offenses?


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Carolee Longley
- Northfield

Thu, 08/25/2016 - 10:37am

Thank you for posting this! PAARI is an outstanding model, and it seems like a great partnership between law enforcement, community resources, families, and those needing help. Hats off to Chief Campanello for his ground-breaking work!

Ron Cicotte
- Nashua

Sat, 11/07/2015 - 9:22am

Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) http://paariusa.org was started to support local police departments as they work with opioid addicts. Rather than arrest our way out of the problem of drug addiction, P.A.A.R.I. committed police departments:

  • Encourage opioid drug users to seek recovery
  • Help distribute life saving opioid blocking drugs to prevent and treat overdoses
  • Connect addicts with treatment programs and facilities
  • Provide resources to other police departments and communities that want to do more to fight the opioid addiction epidemic

PAARI was created by Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello to bridge the gap between the police department and opioid addicts seeking recovery. Since June 1, 260 people have been placed in treatment. In addition, 34 police departments in nine states have joined with the new Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) to create their own addiction outreach and treatment programs. This includes 17 police departments in Massachusetts.

This is a program that is working and expanding nationally.  New Hampshire cities and towns need to aggressively pursue options like PAARI.




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Issue Status

Rep. Brendan Phinney has proposed a bill "relative to the criminal penalty for certain controlled drugs". Last year, Rep. Phinney put forward a bill that reduced many drug penalties from a felony to a misdemeanor. It is possible this bill is similar but the details have not yet been made public. 

Sen. Jeb Bradley has proposed a bill for 2019 that would continue funding the state's cross border drug interdiction program, aimed at reducing the flow of drugs north from Massachusetts.


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