State Democratic leaders are pressuring the Maine Board of Pharmacy to authorize rules that would make it easier to obtain naloxone, an antidote to the drug overdoses that are killing Mainers at the rate of one a day.

House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash sent a letter Thursday to board chairman Joe Bruno and other board members urging action on rules that were approved and sent to the governor’s office last August but have been sitting there ever since.

LePage, who has frequently opposed expanding access to naloxone and vetoed the original bill almost two years ago, has not explained the nearly six-month delay. His office did not respond to a request for comment Friday but said last week that the rules remain “under review.”

Bruno, a former Republican lawmaker from Raymond who owns the Community Pharmacies chain of stores and has led the regulatory board for several years, also has declined to discuss the delay. Reached by telephone on Friday, he said, “I can’t talk to you,” and then hung up.

The Maine Democratic Party last week criticized the governor for holding up the process and called on Republican gubernatorial candidates to state their positions. With the exception of Shawn Moody, the candidates said they didn’t understand the delay, and several said they would release the rules.

This week, Democratic leaders in the Legislature turned their focus to the pharmacy board, which they believe can bypass the governor. Although governors are often given final approval on regulatory rule-making, Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat and frequent LePage foil, has said she doesn’t believe the law requires the governor’s sign-off.

“It has now been close to two years that we have been trying to dispense this life-saving drug at our pharmacies,” Gideon said in a statement. “And for some unknown reason, we are again at a standstill when people’s lives are literally on the line. I respectfully urge the Board of Pharmacy to publish these rules and provide the clarity so desperately needed.”

Jackson said unlike many actions taken by lawmakers or the governor, expanding access to naloxone, often referred to by the brand name Narcan, is literally a matter of life and death.

“Every day the opioid crisis claims the life of another Mainer,” he said. “We cannot afford to delay access to this life-saving drug any longer.”

The Board of Pharmacy is scheduled to meet Thursday, but the naloxone rules are not on the agenda.

The rules in question would allow customers to purchase naloxone over the counter, or without a prescription. The bill was designed to allow opioid users or loved ones to have access to a drug that could reverse an overdose. More than 40 other states already have laws that allow for over-the-counter naloxone purchases.

Maine has been mired in a deadly opioid crisis that has gotten progressively worse over the last few years. In 2016, 376 people died from drug overdoses, the highest number ever recorded. Last year’s death total has not been released but the number is expected to be in the same range.

While policymakers have debated about how best to address the crisis, a consensus seems to have been reached among lawmakers on naloxone.

LePage, however, has not been swayed.

Gideon and Jackson, in their letter, said because there are no rules, pharmacies across the state have not been following the same protocol for how to dispense the drug and that has created unnecessary confusion.

Bruno has declined to discuss the delay with reporters in recent weeks, other than to say the matter is in LePage’s hands. In addition to his background as a lawmaker, Bruno is the treasurer for Moody’s gubernatorial campaign and is working closely with LePage’s daughter, Lauren LePage, and the governor’s longtime senior political adviser, Brent Littlefield.

Last summer, though, shortly before the board voted, he signaled frustration that the rules had been held up.

“This is something that really should have happened a long time ago,” he said.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.