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Maine Legislature Overrides Gov’s Vetos on Harm Reduction

There were two bills proposed in Maine to increase access to harm reduction for opioid addiction – in other words, to keep people from dying of overdoses, contracting HIV, and so on. One bill offered clean syringes; the other made naloxone / Narcon accessible – the drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. Governor Paul LePage vetoed both them, but two-thirds of the Maine legislature overrode his vetos and Maine now has those resources available. However, LePage’s viewpoint on this is nothing short of stunning.

When LePage vetoed the bills, he said “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose”. Boy, did that cause a fury. Dozens of condemning articles appeared.

Later, he said at a town meeting, “There comes a point in time where who is responsible for who. You know a shot of Narcan is $70 and the person who gets it doesn’t have to pay it back.”

This, of course, is being interpreted as LePage not thinking an addict’s life is worth $70. And with LePage having vetoed the bill to make it available, it’s no surprise that people would interpret it that way.

While it is true that a lot of naloxone is given to the same people over and over – most of them do go back on drugs immediately and some (there are no clear statistics) do overdose again and get naloxone again. But to think that means they should just be allowed to die is pretty outrageous. And I’d certainly like to see what would happen to that hard-nose attitude if LePage was talking about his own kids. Just going let them die because they might not stop drugs as a result of an overdose, might overdose again, and won’t pay back the $70?

On the flip side, it’s also it’s also true that in some areas about 20% of people who are given naloxone in an overdose situation actually do get into drug rehab. Had they died, there wouldn’t have been a chance.

That is a LOT of people, and it makes a big difference. And people change their lives.

Chris Poulos, for example, a native Mainer in long term recovery who overcame addiction and federal incarceration to attend law school and work on criminal justice policy reform at the local, state, and federal levels, said when interviewed for a recent article “Naloxone saves lives. In order to obtain treatment, a person must remain alive. Addiction is a treatable condition and not a moral failing.”

Get naloxone at the pharmacy. Keep the addict in your life alive. But get them into drug addiction rehab at the first opportunity.

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