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Maine Governor on Drug Addiction Treatment: Why Bother?

If you are going into drug addiction treatment, just be glad you don’t live in the state of Maine. That’s where the person with the most hard-hearted hang-up about opiate drug addiction treatment lives. It’s Paul LePage, the governor of Maine. He was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, and one can only hope that the people will kick him out of office in 2018.

In the words of the late William Safire, LePage is nothing more than a nattering nabob of negativism. But in April 2016 he did more than just natter: He vetoed a bill that permitted pharmacists to distribute naloxone to those in danger of an opiate overdose. That means he’s intentionally keeping it away from the people who would be on hand if their loved ones overdose from heroin or prescription pain pills.

And why did LePage veto that bill? He put his statement in writing, and so this negativism cannot simply be designated an accidental verbal gaffe. He wrote, “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them to the next overdose.” He actually wrote those words.

Does LePage Support Drug Addiction Treatment?

Granted, LePage has sworn to fight illegal drugs. And he did not veto the Maine law that permits prescriptions for naloxone to be provided to addicts’ family members. However, this current statement nullifies any pretended concern about drug addiction treatment. His statement is tantamount to saying, “Let the addict die. He (or she) will die sooner or later anyway.”

The law that he vetoed resulted from the work of Maine’s Senator Angus King, who had asked CVS Pharmacies to make naloxone readily available to people who might need it. CVS told King that state law prohibited them from doing so. When the Maine legislature, both Republicans and Democrats, worked to pass that law, LePage said no.

We Are Still Fighting the Stigma of Drug Addiction Treatment

Rachel Maddow on MSNBC was one of the many journalists who have ranted and raved against LePage for his stigma against opiate drug addiction treatment. She compares this action to refusing antibiotics to a person with an infection—after all, it would just extend their life.  If someone has cancer, why should they receive treatment when they will just die someday anyway, she raved. But LePage allows treatment in those and other situations. It’s just addicted persons he doesn’t care about.

Are you feeling that Maddow has been too rough on LePage? Keep in mind LePage has also complained about the drug dealers that come from Connecticut and New York to sell drugs in Maine, and he accused them of impregnating Maine’s young white women before going back home. That’s right, he said; adding that Maine’s population is 95 percent white, so don’t think he’s racist. That’s what he said.

TMZ imagined what if Prince’s emergency plane stop just days before his death was for the purpose of getting a naloxone injection. They declared it was a good thing he landed in Georgia instead of Maine because otherwise LePage’s veto would have killed him. Esquire.com referred to LePage as a “human bowling jacket.” Esquire also reports that both times LePage was elected the opposition party was running multiple candidates, splitting the votes and shoeing him in. Maybe it’s time to give him a shoe (in the butt) out.

Apparently LePage figures, why bother with drug addiction treatment? After all, he might say, dying cures drug addiction. Treatment is just a waste of time.

Among the many bills that he’s vetoed are bills to reduce youth cancer risk, to enhance voter registration for persons with disabilities, to protect working mothers who breastfeed, to increase access to health coverage and qualify for federal funding, to provide transparency in fund-raising by and lobbying of a governor-elect (humph!), to promote the safe use and sale of firearms, to protect earned pay, and the list goes on and on. Those are the things he’s been against.

Understanding the Use of Naloxone

While we wade through this brouhaha, it’s a good time to remind people of the correct use of naloxone.  Generally, when someone overdoses, the shot is administered by a friend or family member. The addicted person then follows up immediately with emergency medical care. It’s a huge mistake to refuse that care because the naloxone might well wear off while there are still opiates in the person’s system, and if that happens the person will go right back into overdose mode.

The facts are that any overdose should be followed up with emergency medical care and referral of the person into drug addiction treatment. But most people don’t want to go to a hospital because they think the naloxone has saved their life and they fear they will be charged with illegal drug possession if they go to the hospital. Considering that Maine does not protect breastfeeding mothers, youths at risk for cancer, or disabled people who want to vote, it should come as no surprise that there is no overdose immunity law in Maine.

There’s nothing we as a community of drug addiction treatment providers can do about the governor of Maine, except move away if we live there. But it is important at this time to remember the right way to use naloxone. If you opt to keep naloxone on hand to treat someone you care about in the case of an overdose, you should remember the following.

  • Be certain you can identify the signs and symptoms of overdose such as shallow breathing and cyanotic lips and fingernails.
  • Be able to tell the difference between different types of overdose.
  • Know how to perform rescue breathing, even if you have to take a local CPR course.
  • Call your local emergency medical services—in most places, you dial 911.
  • Know ahead of time how to administer the naloxone. Most opiate drug addiction treatment programs that distribute it will have a nurse to teach you, or ask the pharmacist who provides it.

You should also be aware, if you need opiate drug addiction treatment, that taking naloxone is not just a walk in the park. People who receive it in order to reverse an overdose go into an immediate, vigorous, and very unpleasant withdrawal. So if you administer a dose of naloxone, or if you expect you might receive one because you’re the one addicted, then keep in mind you won’t wake up feeling like Mary Poppins.

Be glad if you live in a place like California where you can keep naloxone on hand. Be glad that drug addiction treatment in places like Texas, Georgia, Maryland, and Alabama protect your access to naloxone. But don’t wait until you overdose to get into drug addiction treatment. Yes, you can get a giant dartboard and put Paul LePage’s photo in the center of it. But in the meantime, accept your responsibility to visit your local drug addiction treatment center and find out just how you can get started on recovery from heroin or pain pill addiction.

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