AUGUSTA – Maine’s Board of Pharmacy on Thursday approved amended rules that would allow pharmacists to dispense the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone without a prescription but only to individuals age 21 or older.

In an apparent compromise struck with Gov. Paul LePage, the board voted early Thursday to increase the age from 18 to 21. The rules have been struck in a bureaucratic or political limbo since August, when the Board of Pharmacy sent them to LePage for his approval. The delays come at a time when Maine is struggling to cope with an opiate addiction crisis that killed more than one person a year in 2016.

Also known by the trade name Narcan, naloxone quickly reverses the deadly effects of an opiate overdose. Naloxone has been administered thousands of times in Maine in recent years.

LePage has consistently opposed allowing naloxone to be dispensed without a prescription. As a result, Maine is one of the only states in the nation not to allow the practice.

Earlier this week, LePage told the New England Cable News Network that he opposed the 18-year-old age threshold in the rules because Maine recently raised the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. He said he believed the minimum age for buying naloxone also should be 21, although the drug has no physiological effect on a person unless they are suffering from an opioid-induced overdose.

The delayed rules have become political issue in Augusta as lawmakers sought to implement a policy change approved by the Legislature more than a year and a half ago.

Maine Democratic Party chairman Phil Bartlett said called the age change “a red herring.

“I think we are very frustrated at the unnecessary delays that the governor and others have caused,” Bartlett said shortly after the board vote. “We think the pharmacy board could have just approved them as they were written to get this process moving even faster. “I also don’t have tremendous faith in the governor, who has consistently dragged his feet and made this as hard a process as possible.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.