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Maine Lawmakers Determined to Lower Age for Naloxone Access

The U.S. Surgeon General urges drug users and their families to keep naloxone on hand. (PublicDomainPictures)
The U.S. Surgeon General urges drug users and their families to keep naloxone on hand. (PublicDomainPictures)
April 18, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine - A bill to expand access to a drug-overdose treatment is awaiting action by Gov. Paul LePage.

The governor has vetoed other bills to expand access to naloxone without a prescription. LePage wants to limit naloxone access to people 21 years of age and older, but Legislative Document 1892, which would remove the age restriction entirely, has passed both houses of the Legislature with veto-proof margins.

According to Lindsay LaSalle, a senior staff attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance, opioid use nationally is affecting growing numbers of younger people, and expanding access to naloxone will save lives.

"It should be in the hands of youths, who may be using experimentally or problematically," she said, "because we know that the sooner that you intervene with problematic drug use, the better chances are of recovery."

There were 418 overdose deaths in Maine last year, an 11 percent increase over 2016. LePage has said easing access to naloxone would enable drug abusers.

However, LaSalle said the evidence shows clearly that naloxone doesn't encourage drug use. She pointed out that using it to counteract an opioid overdose immediately puts the person who took the drug into opioid withdrawal.

"It's not something that any drug user wants to experience," she said. "It's a method of last resort, and it should be a method of first resort for policymakers and elected officials who really want to curb overdose deaths."

The U.S. Surgeon General has urged drug users and their families to keep naloxone on hand. LaSalle said overdoses of fentanyl, an artificial opioid often mixed with heroine, happen so quickly that waiting for first responders to arrive with naloxone often takes too long. She said those at risk of overdose and their families need to be prepared.

"That really is the only thing that is going to allow us to immediately prevent the overdose deaths," she said, "so that then we can begin to usher in other interventions that hopefully can help people scale back on their problematic use."

LaSalle said almost every other state allows people to obtain naloxone without a prescription.

The text of LD 1892 is online at mainelegislature.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME