AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to allow alternative treatments for Lyme disease, which has been awaiting consideration in the Senate for weeks, passed through that body Monday afternoon after failed attempts to amend it.

LD 422, sponsored by Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, would allow doctors to prescribe long-term antibiotic therapy to sufferers of Lyme disease.

The vote came after an amendment was voted down that would have required the Board of Licensure in Medicine and other oversight entities to notify licensed doctors that prescribing long-term antibiotic regimens would not result in discipline. The version of the bill that passed Monday also does not include an informed consent clause, which was included earlier, and which would have required a written agreement between doctors and patients about the risks of antibiotic treatments.

The bill passed over conflicting testimony throughout the process from both doctors and Lyme disease sufferers. More than 1,300 people are diagnosed in Lyme disease per year in Maine.

“This whole thing is really not needed,” said Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, who is a physician. “Right now you can treat Lyme disease with antibiotics for 28 days. I’ve treated people for up to six months. In my clinical judgment, I think it was appropriate.”

However, Gratwick is not convinced that antibiotics are an effective treatment.

“I’m willing to place good money betting that 20 years from now, we will not be treating Lyme disease with antibiotics,” he said.

Sen. Mike Willette, R-Presque Isle, said he favors giving patients more options and that a trip outside Maine — as many Lyme sufferers are forced to do — is difficult for someone from Aroostook County.

“That’s a long ride to get medical care that someone should be able to get right here at home,” said Willette.

Sen. James Dill, D-Old Town, agreed.

“Deer ticks have been found in all 16 counties in the state of Maine,” he said. “Let’s make sure the people of Maine have the best treatment possible available.”

The bill faces further procedural votes before going to Gov. Paul LePage for consideration.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.