Gov. Paul LePage has, for years, been opposed to allowing broader use of an anti-overdose medication known as naloxone or Narcan.
Over his objections, lawmakers approved legislation expanding access to naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose if given quickly. The Maine Board of Pharmacy was tasked with writing the rules to make it happen. The board finished its work in August and presented draft rules to the governor. Since then, the rules have awaited approval from LePage.
Now, he says the rules don’t need his approval.
Given the governor’s inaction — and flip and heartless comments about Maine’s epidemic of deadly overdoses — the board should move forward with the rules, which it unanimously approved in August. The pharmacy board will consider doing so at its next meeting, on Thursday.
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.
One of LePage’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.
That is what LePage has done with his failure to sign off on the naloxone rules. This week, LePage made light of the situation, telling a reporter for New England Cable News that the draft rules weren’t “on his desk.” He invited the reporter to look for them. LePage’s spokesperson previously said the naloxone rules were pending in the governor’s office.
In addition to playing linguistic games, LePage continues to move the goal post. On Tuesday, he said the age to obtain naloxone should be raised from 18 to 21, the legal age when Mainers can buy cigarettes. Lawmakers last year narrowly approved raising Maine’s tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21.
Joe Bruno, the chair of the pharmacy board, said in early January that the board has always presented draft rules to the governor for his approval. At that time, he said, the board did not intend to alter its practices and would wait for approval from LePage for the naloxone rules.
Now, that LePage has made it clear that he doesn’t intend to act, the board must show its leadership.
This isn’t simply a matter of bureaucracy, it’s about the health of Maine’s people and its economy.
On average, every day one Mainer dies from a drug overdose. Some of these deaths are likely preventable with better access to naloxone.
That’s why lawmakers approved a law change to let family and friends of someone at risk for an overdose obtain naloxone without a prescription. The rules also allow those with a history of overdoses, people with high-dose opioid prescriptions and those who are receiving their first opioid prescription to obtain naloxone without a prescription.
Those rules are one step away from being implemented. The governor has abdicated his authority. The board of pharmacy must stop withholding the rules and implement them now, before more lives are lost.
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