AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine is fighting a seeming epidemic of heroin use. Police say use of the addictive drug is steadily growing, as are overdose deaths. Combined with heavy abuse of prescription pills like Oxycodone, Maine has what virtually all law enforcement and medical officials agree is a serious problem of opiate drug abuse.
Now the Legislature is being asked to allow wider use of a drug to prevent overdose deaths. The drug is called Naloxone, and goes by a trade name Nalcon. Supporters of the bill say the drug can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose and save lives. They want it to be made available to police and firefighters, and also want it available to families of drug addicts. Governor LePage vetoed a similar bill last year, citing the fear it would prompt more people to use heroin. Supporters of the bill say there is no research evidence to support that view. But a leading Republican on the Health and Human Services Committee, Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea,) says she thinks the bill goes too far, and that giving the drug to families could create a "false sense of security" for opiate users.
The Director of the state's office of Emergency medical Services, part of the Department of Public Safety, is also opposed to the bill. Jay Bradshaw says ambulance squads around the state handle the needs for the drug now, administering it to 567 patients during 2013. Bradshaw says there are specific medical protocols for using the drug, and worries the bill could run contrary to those. He also opposes giving it to untrained family members, and says there can be complications using it.
Supporters, however, say the bottom line is that greater availability of the drug will save more lives. They say police in Quincy, Massachusetts are now carrying Nalcon, and say it has helped them save a number of people who had overdosed on opiates.
The Legislative committee will debate the issue in the coming weeks.