This week, the Legislature is set to decide whether to expand the availability of a drug that counters the effects of an opiate overdose. Putting naloxone into the hands of police, firefighters and the family members of those suffering from an addiction to painkillers would be one more tool to help the state deal with its major drug problem.
Allowing wider use of naloxone should be seen as one step in the right direction. People administering it must know what overdose symptoms to look for, should be informed about how to react when the patient goes into immediate and severe withdrawal, and must know to still get the patient immediate medical help. In the end, naloxone buys someone just a little more time to breathe.
But that time can mean the difference between life and death. The Legislature has an opportunity to save lives with LD 1686, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. Naloxone has no abuse potential; and it has no effect on those who aren’t on opiates such as OxyContin, morphine or heroin. It has been used for decades in hospitals and ambulances, and it can now be delivered by a hand-held auto-injector easily kept in a pocket or medicine cabinet.
Naloxone shouldn’t be controversial, but Gov. Paul LePage made it so, calling it an excuse to stay addicted. LePage has since modified his stance, however, and apparently supports allowing family members to be prescribed the drug, to administer to a loved one in the case of an overdose. Would LePage also support the other aspect of the bill to allow police and firefighters to carry the drug?
There’s no good reason not to give them the option to have the treatment on hand. Police and firefighters are often the first on scene, especially in rural areas, and it’s their job to save lives. The bill would leave it up to local police and fire departments to decide whether to carry naloxone.
In fact, this is just what Republicans on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee wanted; their minority report would have allowed police and firefighters to administer the drug, not family members or friends.
There is a way for the differing sides in this debate to find common ground. It’s through an amended version of LD 1686 that the Maine House approved Monday in a 147-0 vote; it faces further votes and a decision by LePage. It would do what LePage is OK with: allow immediate family members — but not friends — to carry naloxone. And it would do as Republicans on the committee desire: let police and firefighters carry naloxone.
Essentially, it removes the provision that would allow friends access to the treatment. While not ideal, this updated bill is vastly better than no bill. Yet after the vote, LePage still threatened to veto it, alleging the Legislature was somehow playing “political games with people’s lives” by compromising.
Is he sure he’s not the one playing political games? The unanimous support garnered in the House should only serve as an example for the Senate and LePage to follow. If LePage does veto the bill, there should be ready willingness to override.