Speakers at a public hearing Monday overwhelmingly supported House Speaker Sara Gideon’s bill that would permit pharmacists to dispense an overdose antidote to people of any age without a prescription.

If the bill becomes law, it would negate efforts by Republican Gov. Paul LePage to require that people be at least 21 to obtain naloxone from a pharmacy. Sold under the brand name Narcan, naloxone reverses an opioid overdose and puts the patient into immediate withdrawal. The Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee voted 10-2 to endorse the bill, which now goes to the full Legislature.

More than a dozen people spoke in favor and no one spoke against the bill, which comes at a time when Maine is reeling from an opioid crisis. The state experienced a record 418 drug overdose deaths in 2017, and deaths have been climbing steadily over the past five years.

Gideon, speaker of the Democrat-controlled House, has attracted broad bipartisan support for the bill, including many Democrats and Republicans. Republican co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton and Reps. Karen Vachon of Scarborough and Paul Chace of Durham.

“For the past two years, access to this lifesaving drug has been held up in bureaucratic wrangling while this crisis deepens,” Gideon said.

Maine’s New England neighbors and most other states in the country have moved forward with policies expanding access to naloxone, and also have launched awareness campaigns that help people locate pharmacies or harm-prevention programs where naloxone can be procured without a prescription.

In 2016, the Legislature passed a bill that directed the Maine Board of Pharmacy to develop rules that would allow Mainers to obtain naloxone without a prescription. But those rules were delayed by nearly two years, largely because LePage opposed the bill. LePage finally approved the rules in February, but convinced the pharmacy board to raise the minimum age to obtain naloxone from 18 to 21.

LePage has been skeptical of naloxone, and has said, without evidence, that the drug “perpetuates” the cycle of addiction.

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote in his veto letter for the original 2016 bill.

The Legislature easily overrode that veto, but implementing the law stalled as the pharmacy board rules were being developed. So lawmakers are now trying to codify into law that naloxone can be purchased at any age.

Gideon and others said Monday that it doesn’t make sense to have an age restriction for a safe medication, noting that there’s no age restriction to purchase over-the-counter medications such as aspirin.

“Wouldn’t we want to make it as easy as possible to obtain lifesaving medication? Because we can’t help someone who’s dead,” Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said at the public hearing.

Peter Michaud, associate general counsel of the Maine Medical Association, was one of several speakers from the medical community, including pharmacists, who favored eliminating the age restriction. Michaud said teens with friends or parents at risk could save lives.

“You give the naloxone because the alternative is death,” Michaud said.

Shelby Briggs, who operates Westbrook’s Community Approach to Stopping Heroin program, said Maine lacks treatment capacity, making naloxone especially crucial while the state is working on expanding treatment.

“We’re losing so many people,” Briggs said. “This illness is both chronic and acute. We need to respond so we can keep these people alive until we do have more treatment.”

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion in November, and once expansion is implemented about 70,000 newly insured Mainers will have access to substance use disorder treatment services. Treatment for the uninsured is nearly impossible to obtain, in part because Suboxone and methadone treatment is expensive.

LePage, an opponent of Medicaid expansion, refuses to move forward with implementation until the Legislature comes up with a funding mechanism that he supports.

Gideon said Maine is not doing enough to combat the opioid crisis, proven by the rising overdose deaths.

“Let’s remember that data represents more than numbers – it represents our family, our friends, our neighbors,” Gideon said. “Mothers, fathers, young adults with lives cut tragically short, old or young, first overdose or seventh, and in every instance, at every age, we should be doing everything in our power to save every life possible. And the sad fact is, we are not.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: joelawlorph


Correction: Peter Michaud is associate general counsel of the Maine Medical Association. A previous version of this story misstated his affiliation. 

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