AUGUSTA — A freshman lawmaker on Wednesday will make the case to put a lifesaving drug that can stop heroin overdoses in their tracks “in the hands of as many people as possible.”
Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, will present LD 1686, An Act to Address Preventable Deaths from Drug Overdose, to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, where it will be open for public comment Wednesday morning.
The bill would authorize the possession and administration of naloxone hydrochloride by a wide array of people, including emergency responders such as EMTs, firefighters and police officers, as well as addicts and their friends and family.
The drug is a fast-acting opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opiates such as oxycodone and heroin. Its administration during an overdose can stop the overdose in its tracks, for long enough to get the victim medical attention. It is often administered intravenously, but can also be dispensed in a nasal mist.
The bill would also create a civil and criminal immunity for those who administer naloxone or other similar drugs to someone they believe to be suffering from an opiate overdose.
“We have a public health emergency, and we have the ability to address that emergency and save people’s lives,” Gideon said in a news release Wednesday morning. “The people who overdose are our neighbors, our friends and family. Their deaths are preventable.”
According to the release, 15 states and the District of Columbia have naloxone programs. As reported Tuesday by the Seattle Times, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, is calling on more states to adopt naloxone program.
In Maine, heroin use and overdoses are on the rise as a result of successful efforts to prevent prescription opiates such as oxycodone from entering the black market. In 2012, fatal heroin overdoses quadrupled over the previous year, from seven deaths to 28. The attorney general’s office says that number is likely to grow again when 2013 data is compiled.
In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Paul LePage also discussed the drug epidemic in Maine. The fight against drug addiction has two fronts: treatment and law enforcement. LePage emphasized the latter, saying he would hire 14 additional Maine Drug Enforcement agents in an effort to “hunt down” drug dealers.
Gideon’s bill received national attention Wednesday morning, when the Huffington Postpublished an article speculating that LePage would veto the bill if it passes the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Last year, LePage vetoed LD 1046, a bill similar to Gideon’s, saying that providing naloxone would provide opiate abusers “a false sense of security that abusers are somehow safe from overdose if they have a prescription nearby.”
Naloxone creates no euphoria and has no effect if the patient has no opiates in his or her body.