March 11

Maine bill would save lives by stopping overdoses, supporters say

But Gov. LePage and other officials oppose expanding access to naloxone, or Narcan.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Is a life worth $22?

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Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, introduces her bill at a Health and Human Services Committee hearing Wednesday. L.D. 1686 would expand access to naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan, which is given as a nasal spray to stop the effects of an opiate such as heroin.

Photos by Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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Henry “Skip” Gates thinks it is.

He said he would give anything to go back to that morning in 2009 when his son died of a heroin overdose at the age of 21.

He would love to have been able to give his son a dose of naloxone, which could have stopped the overdose and saved his life.

Gates told lawmakers Wednesday that the state should make the drug – which costs an average of $22 a dose – more widely available because he doesn’t want anyone else to suffer “the unthinkable.”

Gates, who lives in Skowhegan, was among more than a dozen people who testified before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in support of a bill that would expand access to naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan.

L.D. 1686, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would make the drug available by prescription to family members or caretakers of drug addicts. It also would allow emergency medical technicians, and perhaps even police officers and firefighters, to carry and administer the drug. Currently, only licensed paramedics can administer Narcan.

The drug is given as a nasal spray that goes directly to the brain, where it binds to opioid receptors to stop the effects of an opiate, such as heroin.

A similar bill was passed in last year’s legislative session but vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, who said in his veto letter that it would “make it easier for those with substance abuse problems to push themselves to the edge, or beyond. It provides a false sense of security that abusers are somehow safe from overdose if they have a prescription nearby.”

LePage is likely to veto the latest bill, if it passes. In his State of the State address last week, the governor talked about Maine’s growing drug problem and proposed increasing enforcement resources to fight drug dealers, but spoke little about more resources for drug treatment.

By contrast, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire annual address to his state’s growing drug crisis, focusing on treating addiction as a disease.

LePage’s stance has been noticed nationally, with The New York Times contrasting his approach to combating the state’s drug problem with Shumlin’s.

The liberal website Huffington Post was deeply critical of Le- Page, running a story Wednesday under the headline, “GOP Gov. to addicts: Drop dead,” criticizing LePage’s stance on drug abuse and his opposition to expanding access to Narcan.

The home page of the Huffington Post website on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie opposed increasing access to Narcan but changed his mind last year after hearing about its benefits from people who had been affected, including the singer Jon Bon Jovi, whose daughter overdosed on heroin and survived.


While introducing her bill to the committee Wednesday, Gideon acknowledged that more must be done to reduce the amount of drugs available and get more people into treatment, but said Narcan saves lives.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, who spoke in favor of the bill, said good public policy should always lean toward saving lives, “regardless of the circumstances.”

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce testified that he generally supports making Narcan more available but shares the governor’s concern about creating a “false sense of security” for users.

Although most who spoke favored the bill, there was opposition, including from two members of the LePage administration – Nick Adolphson, representing the Department of Health and Human Services, and Jay Bradshaw, representing the Department of Public Safety.

Adolphson said the administration is concerned about the bill’s provision that would require Medicaid reimbursement, which would add costs to a program that already is stretched.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock, a physician, testifies in favor of the bill, which has overwhelming support from health care organizations, ranging from the Maine Hospital and Maine Medical associations to the national Drug Policy Alliance.

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Like most speakers at the hearing Wednesday in Augusta, Dr. Richard Fein testifies in favor of the bill, which Gov. Paul LePage is likely to veto, if it passes.


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