Doctors, police say LePage is wrong on opiate overdose antidote

Good morning from Augusta, where the news of Thursday was Gov. Paul LePage’s refusal to sign onto a compact from 46 governors about fighting opiate addiction.

As you’d expect from something signed by almost all governors, the compact is non-controversial: It calls for reducing inappropriate opiate prescriptions, outreach efforts, reducing barriers to treatment and increasing access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse potentially fatal overdoses.

But the Republican governor’s office assailed it in a statement, with LePage spokesman Peter Steele saying that it’s “a feel-good measure being promoted by politicians in an election year.”

Steele said it didn’t focus enough on law enforcement and schools. But he also said it “encourages the use of Naloxone, which has not been proven to get drug addicts off deadly opiates.”

Of course, naloxone — marketed under the name Narcan — isn’t designed to treat addiction. It’s designed to revive people who have overdosed, and during an overdose, a likely alternative to the antidote’s is death.

But LePage has been an outspoken advocate against naloxone. Earlier this year, he vetoed a bill to expand access to it, saying the drug “doesn’t truly save lives,” but “it merely extends them until the next overdose,” normalizing drug use.

Research contradicts this stance, but it’s one that people can plausibly reason out in their heads. Thursday’s messaging is an escalation of LePage’s already harsh rhetoric around the drug, criticizing it for not doing things that it’s not designed to do.

LePage is also reasonably isolated on naloxone: Just 19 legislators supported him on the aforementioned veto and he’s one of just four governors to not sign the compact.

Furthermore, LePage said this week that he’s trying to close methadone clinics in Maine. Methadone is an opioid that’s used to treat addiction in a clinical setting. The governor said it’s “no help” to addicted people, but that’s frankly wrong.

Across the board, there’s really no other objective way to describe his addiction stances than that: They’re based on bad information.

Don’t take it from me, just listen to three experts.

Mark Publicker, who was an addiction specialist at the now-shuttered Mercy Recovery Center in Portland, rhetorically asked if “the existence of triple bypass surgery” gives “overweight men the sense that they can eat french fries.”

“The way to help people get sober is to provide them with medication-based rehab, the very treatment that the [LePage] administration seeks to eliminate,” he said.

Gordon Smith, the executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, called administration’s comments “harmful, for a host of reasons.”

And Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon said it’s clear that naloxone “was never and will never be a cure,” but his deputies have saved two people with it “and I hope that the persons saved overcome their addictions.”

“They are at least alive to try,” he said. — Michael Shepherd


Quick hits

  • Maine’s U.S. representatives both voted against a bill on Thursday that would preempt state GMO food-labeling laws like Maine’sBut the compromise bill, which would require manufacturers to label foods with genetically-modified ingredients, passed with strong support from Republicans and Democrats. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. Pro-labeling advocates are upset that it doesn’t require physical labels — a QR code, scanned with a smartphone, suffices. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, called it “a complicated solution to a simple problem.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican, said it should be left to states.
  • Anne Hall of Blue Hill will be the next U.S. ambassador to Lithuania after a unanimous confirmation from the Senate on Thursday. The University of Maine graduate is a career diplomat who speaks six languages and has served previously in Europe, China and South America.
  • A coalition supporting Question 2 on November’s ballot will formally kick off their campaign in Scarborough on Friday. The question would establish a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 to increase funding to Maine schools. It’s being backed by Stand Up for Students, a coalition including the Maine Education Association, a teachers union, the Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine Children’s Alliance and the Maine Parent Teacher Association. — Michael Shepherd

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.