Eight months ago, the Legislature responded to Maine’s overdose crisis by making a life-saving antidote widely available without a prescription.

Eight months later, we are still waiting for that law to go into effect.

As the bodies pile up at the rate of one a day, Mainers should be demanding to know: What’s taking so long?

As Maine’s opioid crisis has worsened, legislators have passed a series of bills expanding access to naloxone (commonly known by its brand name, Narcan), a nontoxic, nonaddictive medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.

The most recent of these proposals is also the most forward-thinking one. By allowing at-risk people and their friends and family members to buy naloxone from a pharmacist, without a prescription, L.D. 1547, passed in April, could go a long way toward giving those suffering from addiction another chance to get treatment and get their lives back on track.

Unfortunately, L.D. 1547 has been hanging fire in Augusta for months, though it was an emergency measure. The Maine Board of Pharmacy, charged with creating the rules that enable the law to take effect, didn’t even take it up until last week, when they brought up concerns about the law’s intentions and wording.

How these issues will be resolved is unclear. It could entail a technical correction, or it could require passage of emergency legislation clarifying the intent of the new law. Either way, it will be months before the law is implemented.

Though naloxone remains available by prescription, that can be a stumbling block to access. If you’re not out about the fact that you or someone you love uses opioids, it can be tough to ask your doctor to prescribe an overdose-reversing medication. Public health agencies give out naloxone to at-risk clients and their families, but these programs are geographically out of reach for a lot of Mainers. And someone who’s willing to obtain naloxone from a pharmacist may be uncomfortable going to a homeless shelter or needle exchange for it.

In a recent landmark report, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that the addiction crisis is as serious a problem today as tobacco use was in the 1960s and AIDS was in the 1980s. There’s no doubt that we’re experiencing a public health emergency. And there’s no excuse for the Maine Board of Pharmacy to be dragging their feet at a time when enhancing access to a life-saving medication should be their highest priority.


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