The Governor of Maine Is Not a Narcan Fan

He wants to limit the distribution of the lifesaving overdose medication.

By | Hub Health |

Even though New England is in a well-publicized heroin crisis, and Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh has recently called for all first responders in the city to carry the opiate overdose reversal medication called naloxone, commonly known by its brand name, Narcan, not all government officials in New England are on board with the idea.

NPR reports that Paul LePage, the Republican Governor of Maine, opposes a bill that would put Narcan in the hands of more first responders as well as relatives of addicts. According to NPR, overdose deaths in Maine have been equal to or greater than the number of fatal traffic accidents in the state. LePage vetoed a similar bill last spring, saying it would provide a “false sense of security” to drug abusers:

In his recent State of the State address, LePage proposed hiring 14 more drug agents and expanding drug courts. He did not address treatment.

“We must hunt down the dealers and get them off the street,” he said. “We must protect our citizens from drug-related crimes and violence. We must save our babies from life-long suffering.”

Narcan works by attaching to the same receptors in the brain as opiates, reversing overdose effects when someone is in respiratory distress.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Program distributes free naloxone kits to people likely to witness an overdose, and teaches them how to administer the drug. “Now they have this tool that they can use to literally bring people back to life, and that is a powerful experience,” says Dr. Alexander Walley, a Boston University School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and medical director of the program. “It represents something that’s much bigger than just the medication.”

Walley told Boston in a story published last week that training programs help to educate people on how to prevent, recognize, and respond to an overdose. “When used by people with proper training, naloxone, which can be administered by injection or by nasal spray, is a safe and effective antidote that reverses the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose,” he says. “The Massachusetts training programs have been implemented successfully in diverse settings including needle exchanges, detox programs, addiction treatment, community meetings, family support groups and among first responders.”

In 2012, Walley and his team also published a study in the journal BMJ,which showed that in Massachusetts communities with high numbers of opioid overdose deaths, providing naloxone rescue kits and training works. “As a primary care doctor and addiction medicine provider, I have seen the benefits first-hand of my patients who have survived overdoses due to naloxone rescue kits and come into treatment,” he says. “Similarly, many of my patients have reported to me saving, rescuing others with naloxone kits. I believe in overdose prevention education and putting lifesaving tools directly into the hands of the people best able to reduce overdoses.”

So why is Maine’s governor opposed to the lifesaving medication? Is his position based on studies? Facts? Or just his opinion as stated above that he thinks it will provide a false sense of security to drug users? Does he think that by putting more drug agents on the streets and expanding drug courts (all with taxpayer dollars, of course) will help the problem? Isn’t that what the epic failure known as the “War on Drugs” did?

We reached out multiple times to Gov. Paul LePage and his office for a statement detailing his position. He has yet to respond, but if he does, we will update this post.