AUGUSTA — In a letter Wednesday, the top doctor for the American Medical Association urged Maine lawmakers to overturn the governor’s veto of a bill that would have provided broader access to the opioid overdose drug naloxone — known commonly by its brand name, Narcan.

“Maine, like nearly every state in the nation, is seeing the tragedy of the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin epidemic unfold before our eyes literally on a daily basis,” AMA President James Madara wrote to House Speaker Mark Eves and other lawmakers.

“In response, the medical community and many others joined together to support new legislation that will have a direct effect on the supply of prescription opioids in Maine,” Madara wrote. “The Legislature also passed LD 1547 to address an equally important need – that is, help save lives from overdose.”

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would make Narcan available without a prescription under certain circumstances.

In testimony in support of her bill, Gideon said 15 other states had similar laws in place.

“Simply put, it saves lives,” Gideon said. The bill passed the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, although it fell three votes short of the two-thirds margin it needed in the House to be considered veto-proof.  

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Gov. Paul LePage in the past has objected to making the antidote too readily available, saying it gives addicts an enabling crutch. 

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it simply extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “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.”

The Legislature is expected to convene Friday to take final votes on the Narcan bill and others LePage has vetoed in recent days before it adjourns and ends the current two-year lawmaking session.

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