AUGUSTA – The House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to support a bill that would remove a 21-and-older age restriction on Mainers seeking to obtain the overdose reversal drug naloxone without a prescription.

The bill sponsored by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, was a response to a compromise between the Maine Board of Pharmacy and the LePage administration in order to free up long-stalled rules. In April 2016, the Legislature passed a bill directing the Board of Pharmacy to adopt rules allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone – also known as Narcan – without a prescription to help address Maine’s worsening opioid addiction crisis. But the rules have never been adopted due, at first, to unclear language but more recently by the LePage administration’s sitting on the rules.

In February, the Board of Pharmacy voted to only allow adults age 21 or over to obtain naloxone from a pharmacist without a prescription in a compromise with Gov. Paul LePage’s office. At a public hearing on the rules last week, nearly a dozen speakers argued there is no medical or health reason to restrict naloxone to individuals age 21 and older.

The amended version of Gideon’s bill states that pharmacists could prescribe and dispense naloxone “to a person of any age” who is at-risk of an opiate overdose or who may come in contact with individuals at risk of overdose, consistent with rules adopted by the board. Speakers on Wednesday said the bill would not alter the rulemaking process but would help inform the board’s decision regarding age limits.

“It is time for us to act,” said Rep. Paul Chace, R-Durham, a pharmacist. “There is no reason for us to withhold the availability of this product to … folks who really need to get this drug.”

The 132-7 vote in the House shows the bill has strong, veto-proof support. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Maine is one of the only states in the nation that does not explicitly allow individuals to obtain naloxone without a prescription. Last year, a record 418 people died of drug overdoses in Maine, the vast majority from opiates.

 

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