Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a man with a three-page entry in the book 1000 Reasons Space Aliens Should Vaporize Earth, Just To Be Sure, vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense the anti-overdose drug naloxone without a prescription, explaining that allowing easier access to the life-saving drug “serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.” Oh, and also to keep people from dying of overdoses, which, it is true, may lead to their further drug use. Let ’em die, and their addiction is definitely ended.
Maine law currently allows family members of addicts to get prescriptions for the drug, known by its brand name Narcan, which acts to quickly reverse some of the most deadly effects of opioid overdoses, keeping the central nervous system from shutting down and allowing victims to continue breathing. The bill LePage vetoed, LD 1547, would have made the drug easier to get by permitting pharmacists to dispense naloxone over the counter, with no prescription, to any person “at risk of experiencing an opioid-related drug overdose” or to friends or family members of a person at risk.
In addition, the bill would have allowed police and fire departments to keep supplies of Narcan on hand and would have protected pharmacists and healthcare workers from liability when they acted “in good faith and with reasonable care.” Hey, this all sounds like a reasonable approach to dealing with Maine’s opioid and heroin addiction problem, which caused 272 deaths in the state in 2015.
Ah, but not so fast. Paul LePage doesn’t want to encourage addicts to think they might survive an overdose, which will simply make them go out and get high again. Since addicts have all read up on libertarian theory, they’ll do a different cost-benefit analysis and simply be more likely to do highly addictive opioids if they don’t assume there’s a death sentence hanging over them:
“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote, repeating a contention that has caused controversy before. “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.”
He seems nice.black drug traffickers named “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” who come into Maine, sell drugs, and impregnate the white girls, too. Oh, and he also knows better than a bunch of egghead drug experts:
LePage has stirred controversy before with his suggestions that naloxone has become a sort of life-saving crutch for opioid addicts as he points to reports of drug users who have been revived multiple times from overdoses by police or rescue squads. Bill supporters reacted strongly on Wednesday to his statement that the antidote merely extends lives “until the next overdose.”
“With this insensitive statement, Gov. LePage is insinuating that Mainers suffering from addiction are beyond reach — that they cannot be saved,” Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said in a statement. “I disagree. Narcan can be the difference between an early grave and an intervention that can put an addict on the path to recovery. We know that Narcan saves lives. It is incumbent on us to make sure it is readily available.”
For what it’s worth, LePage is partially — if stupidly — correct that some users are rescued multiple times by EMS workers or police using Narcan; as an October 2015 NPR story reported, the CDC estimates that the use of naloxone kits has “reversed at least 26,463 overdoses between 1996 and June 2014.”
But being saved in the short run from an overdose is no guarantee that someone will stop using drugs. Narcan is one tool to improve the odds of survival, many health providers say, but more long-term solutions to addiction are needed, as well.
And thanks to the sorry state of addiction treatment in our great country, there are never enough detox or rehab beds, and so EMS workers do save the same person more than once, with no available follow-up treatment to send them to. Treatment programs are expensive, overburdened, and underfunded, and not as easy as simply yelling about out-of-state drug dealers, telling doctors to prescribe fewer painkillers, and insisting that naloxone is an easy out for drug users.egg and frying pan thing again.
And the Maine legislature will take up LD 1547 and other vetoed bills again at the end of April, in hopes of getting the two-thirds vote needed to override LePage’s veto.