- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s law to allow access to overdose-reversing medicine without a medical provider’s prescription is missing a key phrase that would actually allow the reform, according to the state’s attorney general’s office and mental health and addiction groups.

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

The 2016 law says pharmacists may dispense naloxone, also known as Narcan, to individuals at high risk of opioid-related overdose and their family or friend. But the state Attorney General’s office said the word “dispensing” means delivering a prescription drug with a prescription, and 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,” said Assistant Attorney General Andrew Black in written testimony.

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

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

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