AUGUSTA — After an initial vote in the House, a life-saving drug that can stop an opiate overdose in its tracks could well be on its way into the hands of more emergency responders, law enforcement officers, firefighters and addicts’ loved ones.

Despite opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the House unanimously voted to give initial approval to LD 1686, a bill by Freeport Democrat Rep. Sara Gideon.

Naloxone hydrochloride, also known by its brand name, Narcan, blocks opioid receptors in the drug user’s brain, ending the euphoria and effects of heroin or other opiates and triggering an immediate and severe withdrawal. It can be administered in the same manner as an Epi-Pen, or as a nasal mist, and can stop an overdose in its tracks.

The bill, as amended Monday in the House of Representatives, allows Narcan to be prescribed to individuals at risk of opiate overdoses and to a member of their family. It also allows a user’s family member to possess and administer the drug if they believe their loved one has overdosed.

It also allows, but does not mandate, local police and fire departments to give Narcan to law enforcement officers and firefighters, who are often the first on-scene when an overdose takes place. It would also allow all levels of EMTs to carry and administer the drug. Current law only allows advanced EMTs to administer the drug in an emergency.

“One-hundred-sixty-three Maine people died [in 2012], whose lives could have been saved,” Gideon said during a floor speech. “There is a window of one to three hours where their life could be saved. … Naloxone simply gives a person a chance to get medical treatment, and to live.”

The Maine Sheriff’s Association came out in support of the bill last week but LePage, who has said the drug could encourage drug users to continue using, has concerns about providing Narcan to firefighters and law enforcement officers who have no specific Narcan training.

He had indicated support for a proposal, floated by Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, which would have given one family member access to the drug, but not to firefighters, police, or basic EMTs.

“After Democratic Rep. Barry Hobbins and I worked on a compromise to this bill and it appeared to be moving forward, the Legislature decided to play political games with people’s lives,” LePage wrote in a statement Monday. “Despite their agreement with me, the Legislature has put up a version of the bill they know full well will be shot down. We are trying to provide this life-saving measure to families, but lawmakers are trying to score political points.”

Holly Lusk, the governor’s senior health policy adviser, said that because of the provisions in the amendment, a veto is a “distinct possibility.” But with unanimous support from House Republicans, LePage’s veto would likely be overridden.


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