Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) vetoed a bill Wednesday that could save the lives of hundreds of people struggling with drug abuse in the state. The bill would have allowed pharmacists to dispense naloxone — the drug that once injected, reverses opioid overdoses — to anyone who may be at risk of overdosing, or someone close to them who could administer it in an emergency.
LePage said that making naloxone more accessible would only “perpetuate the cycle of addiction” in Maine, a state at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. Thirty-five states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws allowing prescription-free naloxone, which is known on pharmacy shelves as Narcan — and major pharmacy chains, like Walgreens and CVS, have openly welcomed the move. While Maine already allows people to access naloxone if they have a prescription, these new laws cut out unecessary time and money spent obtaining a doctor’s note.
“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote in his veto letter, according to the Portland Herald. “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.”
Injecting someone with naloxone who is overdosing from heroin or another opioid can save their life. Members of the state legislature — along with many other critics — say LePage’s veto is a direct disregard to citizens’ lives.
“With this insensitive statement, Gov. LePage is insinuating that Mainers suffering from addiction are beyond reach — that they cannot be saved,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, 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.”
Breen and fellow state lawmakers hope LePage’s veto will be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate. In the past, she’s stood firmly by the fact that drug addiction is a disease — not a criminal act.
“If my daughter’s inhaler is in the drawer and she has an asthma attack, I get it out and give it to her,” Breen said in March. “I don’t say, ‘Sorry you’ve had enough asthma treatment today.’”
While LePage claims naloxone will only encourage drug abuse, dozens of studies have proven just the opposite. Research has found naloxone to greatly decrease overdoses and overall drug use across the country.
Instead of supporting naloxone, LePage has put his efforts behind stopping drug traffickers from bringing heroin into the state. He’s urged the public to shoot drug dealers to solve to the epidemic. And drugs aren’t the only threat traffickers bring to the state.
“Incidentally, half the time [drug dealers] impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we’ve got to deal with down the road,” LePage said at a February town hall meeting, a statement he later tried to retract.
But LePage doesn’t have the best track record on public health policy — he recently declared that immigrants were responsible for Zika’s spread to the United States.