A legislative committee endorsed a bill on Tuesday that would allow Maine pharmacists to dispense a drug overdose antidote without a prescription.

The bill would add Maine to the list of roughly 30 states where the drug naloxone is available at pharmacies without a prescription as a way of increasing access to the antidote at a time when Maine and other states are seeing record numbers of overdoses. Also known by its trade name, Narcan, naloxone hydrochloride quickly reverses the potentially deadly effects of an opiate overdose.

Members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-2 in support of a measure that was requested by the CVS pharmacy chain and received support from the law enforcement and medical communities. CVS requested the bill after receiving a letter from U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asking the chain to expand the availability of naloxone without a prescription.

The bill would require pharmacists to receive training on naloxone and to provide information to recipients on administering the drug as well as the availability of drug treatment.

“We are experiencing a public health crisis in our state, which is taking lives at a tragic, alarming and growing rate,” the bill’s sponsor, Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said in a statement. “Considering what is at stake, we should take any opportunity to counteract the deadly impacts of addiction while we work to put more and better prevention, treatment and enforcement strategies in place. Providing naloxone over the counter is one such opportunity.”

The committee amended the bill to include an immunity clause that provides protection from lawsuits to pharmacists as well as laypersons who administer the drug.


Douglas Carr, a lobbyist representing Rite Aid, told committee members that all 15 states where Rite Aid offers naloxone without a prescription have included some form of immunity clause in their laws.

“One reason for immunity is if, for no other, the outcomes of this drug are very, very compelling if they are good but they are equally tragic if (naloxone) is administered by someone inappropriately or if it is administered too late,” Carr said.

Although official numbers have yet to be released, state officials have said that Maine was on track to have more than 250 accidental drug overdose deaths in 2015, compared to just over 200 the year before. The percentage of overdoses caused by heroin, fentanyl or other opiates has risen steadily in Maine and nationally, a reflection of two simultaneous trends: increasing restrictions on the prescription opiates that got many people addicted in the first place, and a surge in the availability of low-cost but powerful street heroin.

Naloxone, or Narcan, has become standard equipment for many rescue squads around the state as first responders encounter more opiate overdoses. Maine already allows family members of opiate addicts to receive prescriptions for naloxone. Gideon’s bill aims to make the antidote even more readily available.

The bill, L.D. 1547, faces opposition from some lawmakers, however, and potentially from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has suggested that making naloxone easily available could discourage addicts from seeking treatment and could actually enable drug use. Bill supporters would need to muster two-thirds support in both chambers of the Legislature to override a LePage veto.

A committee member, Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, questioned how the bill would help addicts get into treatment because it allows them to bypass their physician.


“Just sending someone to a pharmacist to get what is now a prescribed medication doesn’t seem like a good oversight of a person’s health care,” Sanderson said.

But a bill supporter, Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, countered that “you can’t help a dead person.” The committee’s Senate chairman, Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, also said he was skeptical of suggestions that the availability of an antidote drug encourages people to make poor decisions.

“There is a lesson for every stupid mistake you make in life, but you have to be alive to learn the lesson,” Brakey said.

The bill now goes to the full Legislature for consideration.


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