The United Nations held its first general assembly special session on drugs since 1998 this week at the behest of drug war ravaged nations like Mexico and Columbia who called for a global rethinking on the punitive prohibition of drugs, citing the destructive impact of the war on drugs. For three days in New York City this week, international leaders negotiated an agenda to push world policy towards harm reduction in regards to drug use rather than zero tolerance criminalization.
A few hundred miles further north, Maine's Republican Governor Paul LePage shocked even his most cynical critics, when he vetoed a bill that will allow pharmacists to dispense a safe and effective anti-overdose drug without a prescription.
Passed with unanimous consent from the state legislature, L.D. 1547 would make Naloxone hydrochloride –sometimes known by its brand name, Narcan - available without a prescription. The drug has proven to be an effective antidote for heroin and opioid overdoses. Usually used as an injection or a nasal spray, the fast-acting drug can quickly reverse the symptoms of a heroin overdose. It usually works within five minutes of being injected, MSNBC's Steve Benen explains:
Drug overdose deaths in Maine soared by 31 percent in 2015, reaching a new high of 272 fatalities that was fueled by a near doubling of heroin deaths.
As The Portland Press Herald reported, Maine's legislation was recommended by CVS pharmacies, which received a letter from Independent Senator Angus King, “asking the chain to expand the availability of the antidote. The bill got support from both law enforcement and health organizations during the legislative hearing.”
But explaining his opposition to this potentially life saving legislation, Gov. LePage argued that “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”
“Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction,” LePage argued in his veto.
The legislation would have also allowed police and fire departments to obtain a supply of naloxone for emergency overdose calls and the bill provided immunity to pharmacists and health care professionals who dispense the antidote when “acting in good faith and with reasonable care.”
The director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, Bill Piper, said that by vetoing L.D. 1547 LePage essentially said that “saving lives perpetuates addiction and that it is better to let people die.”
“If your daughter were to die of an overdose, or your daughter’s best friend were to die of an overdose, would you hold on to the belief that you acted appropriately in barring access to naloxone for that child?” said Mark Publicker, the former president of the Northern New England Society of Addiction and current editor-in-chief of the American Society of Addiction Medicine magazine, criticizing LePage's heartless veto. “The little girl, who your daughter grew up with, dies of an overdose because you voted to limit access to a life-saving drug. How’s that going to feel?”
LePage vetoed similar lifesaving legislation in 2013 and has repeatedly dismissed the harm reducing impact of Naloxone.