Dear Governor LePage,
Look at you! Just when it seemed you were about to make an incredibly dumb mistake, you turn around and do something smart.
That’s right, Big Guy. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I logged onto pressherald.com Wednesday and saw that you’d changed your mind – sort of – on the no-brainer bill to make the lifesaving drug naloxone more readily available to Mainers who overdose on heroin.
This surprise turnaround comes almost a year after you vetoed a similar measure and a week after NBC News featured you telling a somewhat incredulous reporter Kate Snow that naloxone, known commercially as Narcan, is nothing more than “an excuse to stay addicted” to heroin.
“Let’s deal with the treatment, the proper treatment,” you told NBC’s national audience. “Not saying, ‘Go overdose and oh, by the way, if you do I’ll be there to save you.’ ”
Fast forward to Wednesday, when you revealed that you will now go along with the use of Narcan on an overdosed addict by immediate family members. Provided, you insisted, that the family first receives “proper training” and that the addict signs “a waiver” before knocking on death’s door with a lethal dose of opiates coursing through his or her veins.
At the risk of nitpicking, Governor, the “training” part doesn’t appear to be all that necessary: The new “Evzio” Narcan device approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration has voice instructions built right into it. Better yet, the injection can be administered into the thigh directly through the victim’s clothing.
Seriously, sir, it’s so simple even a governor can do it.
As for the waiver, I’m not sure I get your point.
Do we require waivers from heart attack victims before they’re resuscitated with automated external defibrillators? Would you prefer that, for lack of a piece of paper, we all simply stand by and watch while another junkie curls up and dies?
Then there’s this head-smacker: You’re willing to make Narcan (which can already be administered by health care professionals, paramedics and advanced life support personnel) available to all those frantic families. But you won’t allow its distribution to police and emergency medical technicians.
Because … why?
But enough on what you still refuse to do. Let’s focus on what you’ve done here – and why, after all your bluster about how Narcan provides heroin addicts an easy “escape” from the Grim Reaper, you suddenly performed this not-quite-180-degree about-face.
From what I can see, it all comes down to one person: state Rep. Barry Hobbins.
We already know that throughout your three-plus years in office, the veteran Democratic legislator from Saco has demonstrated a remarkable knack for sitting down and talking with you without having his head handed to him.
(As you told Dan Demeritt, your former spokesman and now a columnist for the Portland Press Herald, a year ago, “Barry Hobbins is a good man, and I have a great deal of respect for him. He’s put under enormous pressure by lobbyists, but he does good work for the people of Maine. His heart is in the right place.”)
We also know that your change of heart regarding Narcan stemmed from a private chat you recently had with Hobbins, at his request.
What I didn’t know, before I spoke with Hobbins on Thursday, was what exactly you two talked about.
“I told him how this affects so many different families,” Hobbins told me. “Including my own family.”
Hobbins asked me to refrain from going into further detail – like any story involving a loved one with a drug addiction, he explained, his family’s struggle is still a work in progress.
But he shared the whole saga with you, didn’t he, Governor? And, to your credit, you took the time to listen.
“I made an appointment to speak to him privately and I was allotted the typical 15 minutes,” Hobbins said. “But I ended up spending an hour and a half with him.”
I wish all of Maine could have peeked through your window just to see it: Hobbins pouring his heart out, you not saying a word.
And when Hobbins found himself at a loss for words, I’m trying to picture you looking him square in the eye and telling him, “You don’t have to explain, Barry. I get it.”
I must confess, Governor, when I first heard about your newfound support for Narcan, I reflexively thought about all the possible reasons you might have for shifting on this high-profile issue.
A shrewd political move – a la Brent Littlefield, your senior campaign adviser – to soften your edges for your upcoming re-election run?
Damage control to offset your negative portrayal by NBC News? (This just in: After your office alerted NBC to your epiphany earlier this week, the network dutifully reported your new position on Thursday’s nightly news broadcast.)
The more I listened to Hobbins, though, the more convinced I became that this whole turn of events began and ended with two men, away from the political fray, having a heart-to-heart on an issue that could not be more personal. Or, in Hobbins’ case, more painful.
“It really was different,” Hobbins told me. “This is one time that the Big Guy really is a big guy.”
So credit where credit is due, Governor. And if I might be so bold, a suggestion:
On Wednesday, the House passed another drug bill, 126-14, to add 10 drug enforcement officers, two prosecutors and two judges to at least help stem the flow of heroin and other opiates into every corner of Maine. In a bipartisan compromise, lawmakers also added more money to treat our ever-growing number of addicts.
The same day, you threatened to veto the measure because you wanted 14 new enforcement officers, not 10.
“I’m not playing games anymore. I’m tired of playing games,” you fumed to the TV cameras. “In the last two years, this Legislature has done nothing, it has no courage. It will not do what the Maine people want.”
What the Maine people have long wanted, Governor, is for you to listen more and talk less.
And if we can all take one thing away from Hobbins’ and your meeting of the minds (and hearts), it’s that you’re clearly at your best when you close your mouth and open your mind.
Better late than never.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: