Maine will soon be allowing pharmacists to sell Naloxone (Narcan), over the counter despite Governor Le Page vetoing the measure in April. Now residents are calling for “Good Samaritan” legislation that will protect those who intervene to save lives, from prosecution. There are fears that if things go wrong, charges could be laid against the would-be rescuer, and if a bystander is carrying illegal drugs, they may be hesitant to call for help for fear of a possible arrest.
In an impassioned letter to the Portland Press Herald, a resident reminds readers that opioid addiction doesn’t make lives worth any less. It’s an illness, he says, and it’s treatable. Helping addicts who have overdosed isn’t an “enabling behaviour” and it doesn’t mean you condone drug use. It’s quite simply a matter of life or death; an opportunity to save a human being’s life.
What should Good Samaritan legislation include?
Portland resident and recovering addict Alex Klein says the model is already there. 37 states have Good Samaritan legislation, and 18 of them offer immunity from arrest for being in possession of a controlled substance while trying to save another person’s life. Interestingly only 13 include drug paraphernalia in their Good Samaritan immunity laws.
Already, the Westbrook Police Department is applying a policy ensuring that people who report overdoses aren’t arrested. Instead, they receive a summons. In Klein’s opinion, this doesn’t go quite far enough, but certainly represents an improvement that may save lives. Warming to his topic. Klein says safe injection sites would be the next way to prevent overdose fatalities in Maine.
It would be interesting to see Klein in a head-to-head-debate with Governer LePage, who has succeeded in making himself very unpopular with his attitude towards drug addiction in general, and Naloxone in particular.
Doctor horrified by LePage’s ignorance and lack of compassion for addicts
When Governor LePage first vetoed over-the-counter Naloxone, Dr Jospeh Valdez, an addiction medicine specialist, was there to hear his speech which contained this outrageous statement: “Naloxone does not save lives; it merely extends them till the next overdose”. Maine’s governor, it seems, is quite happy to write off addicts as being as good as dead already. He went on to say that Naloxone would only make to easier for addicts to keep on using heroin. Of course, if you are dead, you can’t be an addict any more, but Naloxone isn’t an enabler. It’s a life saver.
Needless to say, Dr Valdez was deeply shocked and saddened, both by the veto decision, and by the “offensive” and “ignorant” remarks that accompanied it. Would the good governor deny anti-allergy medication on the grounds that it would enable the person who is allergic to keep eating nuts? Insulin helps diabetics to keep eating sugary treats, and chemotherapy might allow a lung cancer patient to keep on smoking. Dr Valdez was incredulous at the reasoning given by LePage and sarcastically suggested that he should educate himself by visiting the site drugabuse.gov.
Governor gets “slap in the face” from lawmakers
Dr Valdez was no doubt delighted when LePage got his comeuppance. Having a veto on a bill overturned by a house vote of 132 – 14, and a Senate vote of 29-5 is surely a humiliating defeat for LePage. But the irresistible feeling of schadenfreude this turn of events brings with it is eclipsed by the pleasure of knowing that justice has been done and lives will be saved.
As soon as the policy framework is worked out, police and rescue workers will be able to carry Naloxone, and relatives and friends of at-risk individuals will be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy it without a prescription. All arrangements should be in place for this to happen during 2017. In the meantime, people who are concerned about the safety of an addicted loved one can talk to a physician, requesting a prescription for the fast-acting antidote.
Maine voters seem to be well aware of drug addiction as an illness, not a vice
Judging from the series of letters and articles in the Portland Press Herald surrounding these events, it seems that Maine residents are well aware of drug addiction as a disease.
Those of us who do not suffer from this disease have no right to condemn those who do. As compassionate people, it is our duty to strive towards constructive policies such as those proposed by Governor Peter Schulman of Vermont. He wants health insurance coverage for addicts to be expanded and proposes decriminalization coupled with improved access to treatment.
Advances in addiction medicine and medically assisted drug rehabilitation programs have made it all the more possible for drug addicts to start new, productive lives, and reap the real rewards of sober living.