Maine legislative panel agrees to expand access to heroin overdose drug

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AUGUSTA — A bill that Republican Gov. Paul LePage believes encourages a false sense of security for drug addicts but one that advocates say will save lives was approved by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on a 7-4, party-line vote Monday.

LD 1686, legalizes broader 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 families.

A fast-acting opioid antagonist, naloxone blocks the effects of opiates such as oxycodone and heroin. When administered during an overdose, it can stop the effects of an overdose long enough to get the victim to an emergency room.

The drug is often administered intravenously, but can also be dispensed in a nasal mist.

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Democrats supported the bill while Republicans opposed it, but in a twist Republicans on the committee offered a minority report that supports wide distribution and use of the drug by police, firefighters and other first responders.

The bill offered by state Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is similar to one passed by lawmakers in 2013 and vetoed by LePage.

Making the naloxone broadly available would provide opiate abusers “a false sense of security that abusers are somehow safe from overdose if they have a prescription nearby,” LePage wrote in his veto message.

Gideon said Monday that she was optimistic the bill was progressing and that even the minority report of the bill was an improvement over current law.

“I have heard some positive things from some Republicans about this bill in support for it,” Gideon said.  “As we move forward with this bill, I’m really encouraged that the Republicans on the committee did come out with their amended report, which I do think it’s not as much as we need to do but I do think it is a tremendously good step in the right direction.”

Gideon said police and firefighters often arrive on the scene of an overdose before medical personnel and giving cities and towns the option to authorize their firefighters and police officers to administer the drug would save lives.

Gideon said most of the opposition to the bill comes from conservatives who are concerned over those beyond first responders being given access to the drug.

State Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said she was concerned that without proper training on administering the drug it shouldn’t be broadly disseminated to the public. Sanderson also said that those who are already being treated for a opioid addiction can get a prescription for naloxone and can then have it on hand for a family member to use, if they need it.

“I still have a tremendous level of discomfort with parents, partners, spouses, because what is it other than a sheet we are going to give these folks on how to administer this?” Sanderson asked. 

Sanderson said an overdose of naloxone can result in violent behavior and many may not know how to respond to that. She said that’s why she favors expanding the drug’s reach to professional emergency responders.

She also said each department that might be authorized to administer the drug should be allowed to decide whether they want to take that role on in the future.

The bill’s next stop will be the House of Representatives sometime in the weeks ahead.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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