The development of a new drug that can save the life of someone dying of an opiate overdose should be welcomed as a godsend in a state that has seen a steady rise in such deaths. Instead, it has been just another reason for political chest pounding by a governor who does not seem to understand the problem.

Gov. LePage initially opposed any distribution of the drug naloxone (known by the brand name “Narcan”) to people who are not medical professionals because he said it would provide an “excuse to stay addicted.” He has reportedly relented part way, saying he would permit its use by family members of addicts who have the addict’s permission to use the drug in a life-saving situation.

While the governor is moving in the right direction, it is not nearly far enough. It’s time for cool heads in the Legislature to pass a bill, over a veto if necessary, that would make this overdose antidote widely available, not only to family members of known addicts, but to police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians, who are likely to be the first people on the scene of an overdose and who could save a life.

The governor defended his position last week saying, “I’m trying to get drugs off the street,” which betrays a weak understanding of the drug he is trying to control. Narcan is not a recreational drug. Its only function is to reverse the effects of other drugs, sometimes with unpleasant side effects, but it can save lives.

Keeping that drug out of the hands of a police officer because you want to fight drugs makes as much sense as prohibiting a state trooper from driving a cruiser because you are against speeding. Just as there are times when public safety demands an officer drive faster than the speed limit, there should be drugs available to first responders to treat overdose victims. If they are successful, there will be time to press charges.

Even the governor’s exception for families is well-intentioned but poorly conceived. It may save the life of someone known to his family as an addict, but it won’t help the first-time user, who is likely to overdose because he has not built up tolerance.

The governor should be pushed to make this medicine widely available to save as many lives as possible. If lawmakers can’t convince him of that, they should go around him and pass this bill.

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