- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - After successfully widening access to the drug overdose antidote naloxone in Maine last year, lawmakers are making another push to put it in the hands of more people close to drug users.

But the effort faces continued opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who argues that making the anti-overdose antidote too readily available could encourage drug use.

A measure introduced by Democratic Rep. Henry Beck of Waterville would allow a friend of an addict or “another person in a position to assist” to be prescribed naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, which helps someone who is overdosing take in air by blocking brain receptors that opiates latch onto.

It also aims to make it easier for those who need the overdose antidote to get it by allowing it to be handed out at places like public health clinics through “standing order” prescriptions.

While supporters say expanding access to naloxone is a common-sense move, LePage has opposed such efforts in the past, saying it could cause addicts to “push themselves to the edge, or beyond.” He softened his position slightly last year to allow family members to be prescribed the drug, but he said Tuesday he doesn’t support expanding access to users’ friends.

“I think professionals should be dealing with the drug issues, not just everybody’s friend,” he told reporters.

Beck said he remains optimistic that some version of his proposal will make it into law this session.

“The original bill was the product of a delicate compromise and I think that can happen again,” he said.

Under Becks’ proposal, a physician could grant a “standing order” that authorizes officials like EMTs, pharmacists or public health center workers to distribute the antidote if certain conditions are met. For example, a health center with a standing order could provide a naloxone kit to someone it deems is at risk for overdose, Beck said.

The bill would also provide limited liability from criminal prosecution for a person that seeks medical assistance when he or she is having an overdose.

Becks’ measure - and a similar one introduced by Democrat Sen. Geoff Gratwick - seeks to build upon last year’s proposal from Democratic Rep. Sara Gideon that expanded access to family members of addicts and authorized police and firefighters to administer the drug.

LePage initially opposed a broader version of Gideon’s bill and vetoed a previous one, saying it could provide users a false sense of security that they’re safe from an overdose.

He later agreed to prescribing naloxone to family members but threatened to veto Gideon’s measure because it also included law enforcement officials. His administration said he was concerned about liability issues but he eventually agreed to let the bill go into law without his signature after lawmakers amended it to ensure that officials are trained first.

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, which lobbied heavily for the bill last session, acknowledged that the makeup of the Legislature will make the bill’s success difficult without LePage’s support. Two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers must support a bill to override the governor’s veto, and Republicans gained control of the Senate as well as several seats in the House in the November elections.

But, “whether it takes one year or two or four, we are all committed to saving lives and getting naloxone into more places,” Smith said.

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Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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