Maine Governor Blocks Addicts From Buying Lifesaving Drugs

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would have made it easier for addicts to access lifesaving drugs in the event of a fatal overdose, according to the Portland Press Herald.

In his veto letter, LePage, who is a Republican, said that naloxone “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

The bill, L.D. 1547, would have allowed pharmacists to dispense naloxone hydrochloride, an anti-overdose drug commonly known as Narcan, without a doctor’s prescription. The bill, which unanimously passed the state legislature earlier in the month, would have allowed individuals at risk of experiencing an overdose or their family or friends to purchase the drug and have it on hand in case of an emergency.

“Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction,” LePage wrote.

The United States has seen a devastating spike in deaths from opioid abuse, and naloxone has been cited by public health officials — including Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services — as a way to help curb drug-related deaths. In January, Refinery29 reported on some of the lives that had been saved by the drug.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 435,000 Americans are regular users of heroin. Another 4.3 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2014. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there had been a 286% increase in heroin-related overdose deaths since 2002.

In Maine, the crisis is rapidly expanding — in 2014, the most recent year on record with the organization, the state saw 216 drug overdose-related deaths, a more than 27% increase from the previous year. Fourteen states, including New York, California, and Minnesota, allow Narcan to be sold over the counter.

LePage’s stance is not the general policy of the Republican party. In July, GOP presidential candidate John Kasich signed legislation to make naloxone available without a prescription at pharmacies in Ohio, where he is governor. In the early months of the presidential election, several of then candidates spoke publicly in favor of treating addicts with compassion to help them toward recovery. In a video shared on Facebook in October, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie discussed how hard it was to quit an addiction, citing his mother’s effort to stop smoking. “No one came to me and said, ‘Don’t treat her, because she got what she deserved,’” Christie said. Jeb Bush has spoken publicly about his daughter’s history of substance abuse, saying that it was “appropriate” for the government to play a role in providing treatment and prevention services.

Though LePage’s veto has delayed the bill, it hasn’t necessarily killed it. The Maine legislature will revisit the bill on April 29, and could override the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority.
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