AUGUSTA — Maine’s law to allow access to overdose-reversing medicine without a medical provider’s prescription is missing a key word that would actually allow the reform, according to the state Attorney General’s Office and mental health and addiction groups.

The Senate on Monday and the House last week approved a bill adding the word “prescribe” to the 2016 law.

The law says pharmacists may dispense naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to people at high risk of opioid-related overdose and their families or friends. But the Attorney General’s Office said the word “dispensing” means delivering a prescription drug with a prescription, and it worked with state regulators on a new bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe naloxone.

“With no apparent federal appetite for reclassifying naloxone hydrochloride as an (over-the-counter) drug, the only solution appeared to be to give pharmacists the narrow authority to prescribe naloxone,” Assistant Attorney General Andrew Black said in written testimony.

The bill goes to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk.

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, has the potential to save the lives of addicts who overdose on opiates such as heroin.

The Republican governor vetoed the 2016 law and has repeatedly argued that naloxone extends lives only until the next overdose.


Addiction and mental health groups say the law’s wording has left pharmacists in limbo. Last year, Maine had 376 reported overdose deaths, and the average age of heroin and morphine victims is 39.

“If we allow our young to die of overdose, rather than act and believe that they can recover and become productive members of our community and state, then we have not only sold our state short; we have sold human life short,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Karen Vachon, said in written testimony.

Groups such as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Maine Right to Life Committee provided testimony in support of the bill.

Ross Hicks, a Brunswick resident in long-term recovery from addiction, said that since May 2016 he’s distributed over 270 naloxone kits to people with 70 successful reported reversals.

Hicks, the harm reduction coordinator with Health Equity Alliance and a member of the state’s opioid task force, said there are individuals facing addiction who lack doctors, while others may not want to admit their substance use disorder.

“All naloxone does is save lives; it does not encourage or enable use despite sensationalized stories to the contrary,” Hicks said in written testimony. “In every peer-reviewed study on community access to naloxone, use has either remained constant or been reduced both in frequency or volume.”

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