Drug overdose deaths had been growing in Maine for several years, but what really grabbed public attention was a single statistic that emerged in 2010.
That year, more people in Maine died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle accidents.
In response, the Legislature called together experts from around the state who met for four months before issuing a series of recommendations.
One was to create a "Good Samaritan" defense for people who witness an overdose and quickly call for medical help.
Sometimes, in such a situation, fellow drug users run, leaving the desperately sick person to die. Sometimes friends and family spend time clearing the scene of evidence rather than calling for help.
In either case, precious minutes are lost getting the victim medical attention that could quickly and effectively reverse the life-threatening condition.
The group of lawyers, doctors and drug abuse experts who studied the issue advised that Maine adopt an amendment to law that has worked effectively in other states.
It's called a "Good Samaritan" defense because it helps prevent people from being punished for acting compassionately and doing the right thing.
It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but rather an affirmative defense for anyone at the scene arrested for drug use or possession.
An affirmative defense means the defendant in a criminal case has the opportunity to prove to the satisfaction of a judge or jury that there were mitigating circumstances that should be considered in determining guilt or innocence.
An example of an affirmative defense is self-defense. Yes, I hit somebody, but I did so in self-defense.
The law would not protect people from prosecution for other offenses, like drug trafficking, or on unrelated charges, or for arrest on an outstanding warrant.
"A law of this type would save lives and save costs associated with untreated or inappropriately treated drug overdoses," according to the study group's report.
A bill was submitted by Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock, a physician; three other physicians in the Legislature co-sponsored the measure.
Hearings were held by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and testimony was submitted by six people. Five spoke in favor, including Gordon Smith from the Maine Medical Association.
No one from law enforcement spoke against.
The measure zoomed through the Legislature, passing as a formality because there was no opposition voiced.
So, from start to finish: The "Good Samaritan" overdose bill was suggested by a panel of experts. Supported by testimony and medical literature. Proven in nine states and the District of Columbia. Then it was approved without exception by every member of the Maine House and Senate.
Perhaps Gov. Paul LePage was unaware of all this when the bill crossed his desk, but he didn't like what he saw. Out came the veto pen, and down went the law intended to save lives.
The governor said in his veto message that LD 1044 would "create an unnecessary barrier for drug enforcement when drug use remains a significant scourge on our state."
The governor didn't provide any evidence of this or examples. John Morris, the governor-appointed commissioner of Public Safety, recently told the Sun Journal he supported the veto, but refused to say another word about it.
We're not sure what, if any, research Morris did on the subject, but we talked to Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chief of Police Foundation.
His state has had a similar law for several years, a law his group "strongly supported," and to his knowledge the law has caused no problems for the members of his association.
Sampson said his group's officers use their discretion and would rarely charge a person for possession if they were seeking to save another person's life.
Even if they did file a charge, he believes prosecutors would show similar discretion.
It is likely that police officers and prosecutors everywhere would much rather save a life than make a bust for a small quantity of drugs.
Washington State adopted a similar law in 2010. Afterward, researchers found that 88 percent of opiate users said they would be more likely to call for help if they felt they would not be prosecuted for possession.
Which is the whole point of passing such a law and spreading the word in Maine. Overdose deaths are, after all, one of the problems we are trying to solve.
The bill went back to the Legislature, where Democrats sought to override the veto.
This time, 14 Republicans in the Senate switched sides, apparently believing it was more important to agree with the governor than to save the lives of a few drug addicts. Only one Republican stuck with his original vote.
In the House, 47 Republicans shuddered at the thought of defying the governor, switched sides and voted against a bill recommended by medical and drug-abuse experts.
The "Good Samaritan" bill made sense, likely would have saved lives and may eventually pass one day.
Unfortunately, it won't be this year. This time, misinformation and partisanship prevailed over compassion and good government.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.