If you are actively using heroin, it is almost a guarantee that you will personally experience an overdose or see one happen. The first time I overdosed, it was on an ordinary night in my own home. I narrowly escaped death, but this wouldn’t be the last time I would overdose before eventually finding recovery.

I understand that this doesn’t make any sense unless you’ve experienced it yourself. It shouldn’t; the disease of addiction isn’t rational. I didn’t choose to become addicted to heroin — weighing the odds of dying from overdose — then decide it was worth the risk. Like thousands of other Mainers, this is where my substance use disorder eventually brought me.


Last Aug. 3, the Maine Board of Pharmacy unanimously voted to approve rules allowing pharmacists to dispense the life-saving drug naloxone without a prescription. Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a drug capable of reversing the effects of a potentially fatal overdose of heroin, fentanyl and other opioids.

Gov. Paul LePage has consistently opposed increasing access to naloxone, but in 2016 lawmakers approved making naloxone available over the counter, overriding an earlier veto by the governor.

The bill was later amended to clarify some questions from the Board of Pharmacy and again passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming support, becoming law without a signature from Gov. LePage.


Since the Board of Pharmacy unanimously approved the rules allowing pharmacies to dispense naloxone without a prescription — more than five months ago — the bill has been sitting on the governor’s desk, ignored, with no explanation ever being provided for the delay. This has caused confusion among Maine pharmacies on how to properly distribute naloxone, who they can distribute it to and the rules around doing so.


Gov. LePage has repeatedly cited misinformation and perpetuated stigma in his outspoken opposition to increased naloxone access:

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” he wrote in 2016. “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.”

I agree that naloxone is not the answer to our state’s opiate epidemic, but it saves lives — and you can’t recover if you’re dead.

It’s glaringly evident that the governor doesn’t have an adequate understanding of substance use disorder or how naloxone is actually used.


Even more troubling is that LePage has done little to expand access to treatment. Not only is he not taking action to help addicted Mainers receive adequate treatment, but he also wants to limit access to something that could save lives in the meantime.

Greek philosopher Epictetus once said: “What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.”

While Gov. LePage digs his heels into the ground, touting his ignorance on the issue, people in Maine continue to die at an alarming rate. Every year hundreds of Mainers die from a drug overdose, and more than 60,000 people die each year nationally.

Every day someone in Maine dies from a drug-related overdose. More disturbing, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, accidental deaths from drug overdoses rose by 577 percent between 2000 and 2015.


In recent years, naloxone has been successfully used thousands of times in Maine to revive people suffering from an overdose. Increased access has prevented countless deaths in our communities and allowed those suffering from addiction an opportunity to recover.


What concerns me most is that our governor feels that his outdated and repeatedly disproven opinions on addiction give him the right to deny some of us the chance to recover — or to deny parents a chance at potentially saving their child’s life.

It’s irresponsible for our governor to ignore the people and their elected officials — creating barriers for private citizens to practice harm reduction in their own homes and with their own money.

Having experienced multiple heroin overdoses of my own before I found recovery, I can tell you that recovery is possible — but, in Maine, only if you’re lucky enough to survive.

Seth Blais of Portland is an advocate, a writer, a person in recovery, a marketing professional and a volunteer recovery coach for several local municipalities. He can be contacted on Facebook or at: sethblais.com

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