AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislators on Monday endorsed an emergency bill designed to fix a stalled year-old law to allow pharmacists to sell opiate overdose antidotes over the counter without a prescription.
The amendment now heads to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who unsuccessfully vetoed the original bill, at the time saying the opiate antidote naloxone — commonly sold as Narcan nasal spray — “does not truly save lives, it merely extends them until the next overdose.”
The original bill, introduced by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, was designed to make naloxone available at pharmacies without a prescription. But as written, it still required would-be users to have a prescription.
That led Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, to submit an after-deadline bill in early May to add the words “may dispense” to the law, as well as add required training for pharmacists and customers.
A two-pack of Narcan nasal spray costs about $175, without insurance.
Opiates were involved in 313 of the 376 overdose deaths in Maine in 2016, a number that has grown from only 60 in 2000. The law is designed to make it easier to get the life-saving medication into the hands of opiate users and their family and friends.
The Senate on Monday also endorsed the bill by more than the two-thirds vote required to override a veto and enact the bill immediately as an emergency measure. Vachon’s bill was endorsed by the House, 126 to 20, last Wednesday, and again on Friday with the required two-thirds endorsement to pass as emergency legislation.
The Maine Board of Pharmacy would be tasked with writing the rules for the new, amended law, if it passes.
Gideon proposed her naloxone bill after U.S. Sen. Angus King wrote to CVS Health urging the company to provide the medicine over-the-counter at its 22 stores in Maine as it already does in 15 other states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The company then reached out to Gideon about sponsoring the legislation to allow pharmacists to dispense the medication without a doctor’s prescription, and then helped Vachon.
LePage issued a letter to Gideon earlier this year saying that he opposed her measure.
“I believe to be unwise and counterproductive for reasons I noted in my veto message accompanying your bill,” the governor said.