Maine lawmakers on Friday overrode a veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage to make an opioid and heroin overdose-reversal drug more available through local pharmacies.
The state reported a record 272 drug-overdose deaths last year, up 31% from 2014.
The Maine law, which mirrors policies in more than half the U.S. states, allows pharmacists to dispense the drug naloxone to eligible individuals, including the friends and family of drug users. Naloxone works by displacing opioids from their receptors in the brain, rousing people at risk of dying from an overdose as their breathing slows dramatically.
Public health officials and first responders around the U.S. are embracing naloxone, sometimes known by the brand name Narcan, as a tool in the fight against a worsening opioid epidemic, citing evidence that it saves lives.
But Mr. LePage has long expressed reservations about naloxone, stating his worries the drug could create a safety net that emboldens addicts. He vetoed the legislation earlier this month.
“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,” Mr. LePage said in an April 20 veto message.
But treatment experts reject the notion naloxone is an enabling drug, and say curbing access could put lives at risk.
“The idea behind Narcan is you need to live another day in order to get yourself into recovery,” said Hilary Jacobs, vice president of addiction treatment at Lahey Health Behavioral Services in Massachusetts. “Death is not an appropriate consequence for having a disease."