“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” says unapologetic Governor.
Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill Wednesday that would allow pharmacists to dispense the anti-overdose drug Naloxone without a prescription, rationalizing it much in the way abstinence-only activists explain their stance against condoms and HIV medication.
“Naloxone does not truly save lives, it merely extends them until the next overdose. 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.”
Maine already has a program in place allowing family members of addicts to carry naloxone hydrochloride – commonly known as Narcan – which counteracts a potentially fatal dosage of opiates, but this must be obtained as a prescription, thus making it fundamentally more difficult for certain populations to obtain.
It additionally requires those whose lives it could save admit their addiction to medical professionals, stigmatizing a population already unlikely to come forward with the truth about their substance abuse.
The bill that LePage vetoed, L.D. 1547, instead would allow the antidote to be even more readily available by allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without prescription to individuals “at risk of experiencing an opioid-related drug overdose” or even to a friend/family member of someone imminently at risk.
The bill passed overwhelmingly and received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, voting 98-49 and 25-8 in favor, respectively. While certain dissenting Republican Senators like David Whiting expressed concern that this bill would give addicts a “license to experiment” many Republican legislators disagreed, noting that even local police chiefs believed in the power of this drug’s ability to save lives.
“Although some would argue that we are enabling addicts to continue their ways, we would strongly disagree,” testified York Police Chief Douglas Bracey on behalf of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, “Most people don’t choose to become addicts.”
Maine, like much of New England, has been hit hard by an epidemic of heroin primarily affecting working class and middle class white suburban families.
The spike in fatalities claimed by its addiction has prompted many lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and community leaders to rethink addiction, drug reform and methods employed to ultimately eradicate the damage it is causing across the country.
Nationally, deaths from heroin overdoses have quadrupled since 2000.
In June of 2015, Gloucester, MA police chief Leonard Campanello launched a groundbreaking “angel program” to combat heroin addiction, allowing addicts a chance to come to the police station to seek treatment and turn over any remaining drugs or paraphernalia without facing arrest for drug possession or other charges.
The program has seen a significant drop in overdoses as well as detailed leads on how to curtail the actual influx of the drug into the Gloucester community.
Specifically, it has served more than 400 addicts out of Gloucester alone, becoming a national model for combating opiate addiction.
As a result of his vision, Campanello along with 10 other law enforcement officials are being honored April 29 at the White House as a champion for change in “prevention, treatment and recovery,” part of the Obama administration’s efforts to address the heroin epidemic and prescription opioid abuse, according to White House spokesman Keith Maley.
Many advocates for drug reform are hoping that this model will set a standard for combating addiction across the country, not just in middle class, predominantly white communities.
“This new turn to a more compassionate view of those addicted to heroin is welcome,” said Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, specializing in racial issues at Columbia and U.C.L.A law schools, “But, one cannot help notice that had this compassion existed for African-Americans caught up in addiction and the behaviors it produces, the devastating impact of mass incarceration upon entire communities would never have happened.”
In the case of the heroin epidemic, the political engagement fueled by middle (and in many cases, upper) class white communities has helped create an impetus for change.
“You have a lot of people dying, and it’s not longer just ‘those people,'” says Timothy Rourke, the chairman of the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, “You have people with lived experience demanding better treatment, and you have really good data.
Given his alarmingly backwards stances on many other social causes, that LePage would veto this bill is hardly surprising.
Speaking about the heroin crisis in January, he opted to spend more time racially profiling those bringing the drugs into the state than actually addressing those addicted, saying “These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shift – these types of guys – they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin they go back home.”
“Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” the Governor added shamefully, “which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”
LePage is one of three sitting governors to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.