Last year, Gov. Paul LePage offered a glimmer of hope that he was beginning to understand the state’s opioid crisis and how to stop the record-setting increase in overdose deaths. As we feared, that hope was short lived and misplaced.
In July, LePage said he believed that naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, could save lives. It was a huge turnaround for a governor who, a year earlier, wrote: “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”
The governor offered his dire view of naloxone, which goes by the brand name Narcan, in an April 2016 letter vetoing a bill that would allow pharmacies to offer the drug without a prescription. His veto was overridden.
Since then, the law allowing naloxone distribution without a prescription has been stalled. First, by the Board of Pharmacy, which said some of the law’s language was unclear. After fixes from the Legislature, which became law without the governor’s signature, the board took up the issue again and in August unanimously finalized rules for naloxone distribution.
Five months later, the rules are languishing on the governor’s desk, with no timetable for their release. This has led to confusion among pharmacies — Walgreens dispenses naloxone without a prescription, but CVS does not — and deprives some overdose victims of a second chance.
This is outrageous and heartless.
In 2016, 376 Mainers died of drug overdoses, with the majority attributed to heroin and other opioids. The trend of an average of one overdose death a day continued last year.
Maine had one of the largest increases in drug overdose deaths between 2015 and 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One reason is that Maine is among the handful of states that do not allow the distribution of naloxone without a prescription. State lawmakers have acted to reverse this and drug regulators have written and approved the needed rules. All that is needed now is action from LePage.
The governor, like others who stand in the way of helping people struggling with substance-use disorder, prefers to condemn people struggling with addictions rather than help them.
One of the governor’s frequent complaints about naloxone is that some people have been revived with it more than once. This is a valid concern, but the top priority should be to keep these people alive in order to address their addiction. Condemning some Mainers to die because they are struggling with addiction is unconscionable.
Last month, LePage and his wife, Ann, touted how bariatric surgery helped them lose weight, turning their lives around and, likely, prolonging them. Both acknowledged that they failed to lose weight on their own. Neither saw having the surgery as a sign of moral failings on their part.
So, if bariatric surgery is a godsend to help people lose weight, naloxone is a godsend to those struggling with substance-use disorder. Both can offer the intervention needed to help someone live another day to begin to improve their health and lives.
LePage took an oath of office to uphold the laws of Maine. That does not mean only the laws he likes or agrees with.
Saving lives with naloxone is LePage’s duty, whether or not he thinks those lives are valuable.
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