MILO, Maine — He likes to keep his Facebook posts light and informative, but police Chief Damien Pickel had strong words for Gov. Paul LePage’s recent criticism of the opiate antidote Narcan.
LePage’s veto of a bill on April 20 that would allow pharmacies to dispense the drug designed to reverse potentially fatal opiate overdoses struck Pickel as “uninformed,” Pickel wrote Friday on the Milo Police Department Facebook page.
“By saying it ‘does not truly save lives,’ you are being disingenuous and are doing a disservice to those of us who have administered it. It does save lives. It’s not a safety net for the addict that will ‘perpetuate the use of heroin,’” Pickel wrote. “When an addict is overdosing, they lack the skills to administer it themselves. In fact, an addict hates Narcan because it reverses the effects of the opioid and they immediately go into withdrawal.”
A 20-year veteran New York City police officer, Pickel said he has seen about a dozen heroin overdoses in Milo since he became Milo’s chief in 2011. Twice he has seen heroin addicts administered Narcan, with fast results — both were breathing poorly but revived quickly, he said.
Milo and Brownville went through a stretch in late 2015 of five overdoses and one heroin fatality because of the drug being mixed with fentanyl, which drugabuse.gov defines as “a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine.” Fentanyl increases the chances of overdose by factors of three to five, Pickel said.
“We haven’t had many OD calls as of late,” Pickel said.
The bill LePage vetoed, sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, would add Maine to a list of about a dozen other states that would allow naloxone — branded as Narcan — to be sold over the counter.
Through his veto, LePage is attempting to prevent broader access to the drug.
“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote in his veto letter. “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.”
Pickel chastised LePage by writing “you should listen to your police, fire, [emergency medical responders] and medical professionals before you make any further uninformed statements. We’re getting it done on a daily basis. We save lives — whether you’re rich or poor, black, white, green or purple, addict or sober,” Pickel wrote on the Facebook page.
The posting had been shared 591 times and drew 177 responses as of 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
Some commenters on the page criticized LePage for insensitivity while others felt Pickel was overreaching by posting a private opinion on a town Facebook page.
“He’s not God,” one writer said of LePage. “It’s an addiction, but according to him, your loved one or my loved one should just die if they overdose. I will contact my legislators.”
“You are voicing on behalf of the Town of Milo in every sense — using the police badge, heading and URL of the Milo Police Department, along with the police department’s address and phone number,” one woman wrote. “You have disguised and represented yourself as ‘The Milo Police Department’ and as such should be supported by the town, reconfigured or taken down.”
Pickel runs the page as his “avenue to inform people.”
“I have 200 friends on my personal FB page and most of them are friends in New York, who totally don’t care about affairs in Maine,” he said.
Town officials have not complained about his use of the page, he said.