AUGUSTA — A bill that would remove age restrictions on Mainers who want to buy the anti-overdose drug naloxone without a prescription is on its way to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage after the Republican-controlled Maine Senate unanimously endorsed the measure Friday.

Sponsored by Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill is in response to a demand by LePage that the state Board of Pharmacy create rules limiting non-prescription access to the drug to those 21 or older.

LePage has previously vetoed legislation aimed at expanding access to the antidote, even as Maine deaths from overdoses increased to more than one a day. In 2017, a record 418 people died of drug overdoses in Maine, the vast majority from opiates.

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 were never adopted due, at first, to unclear language but more recently because of a six-month delay caused largely by the LePage’s refusal to sign off on them.

Earlier in the week, the House voted 132-7 in support of Gideon’s bill, which would eliminate age limits for over-the-counter naloxone sales. LePage will have 10 days to sign or veto the bill, otherwise it will become law without his signature.

“Overdoses can strike anyone at any time and in every opportunity, we should be trying to save every life possible,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “While the holdup of Narcan dispensation has been beyond frustrating, I want to thank (lawmakers) for advancing this piece of legislation. We can no longer ignore the impact of this epidemic, disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment and clearly, we can no longer delay access to life-saving medicine.”

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 on April 5, nearly a dozen speakers argued there is no medical or health reason to restrict naloxone to individuals age 21 and older.

The Board of Pharmacy’s public comment period on the rule change closes April 15.

“This legislation seeks to redress the previous actions, which had no basis in medical research or expert opinion and directly contradicted legislative intent,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “To truly start combating this epidemic, we need cooperation and leadership from all branches of government, including the Executive Branch. Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on this crisis.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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