Maine Governor Paul LePage finds himself in the midst of another storm of criticism after he vetoed a bill designed to make Naloxone – the overdose antidote – accessible to more people.

The bill, L.D 1547, would have expanded access to the fast-acting drug Naloxone Hydrochloride, which is sold under the brand name Narcan, by allowing first responders and people close to heroin addicts to obtain it without filling out a prescription.

However, LePage wrote a letter to the legislature citing the authority granted to him in Article IV section 2 of Maine’s Constitution to veto any bill brought before him. He urged the lawmakers to sustain his decision saying, “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose. 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.”

Governor LePage ‘Insensitive’ to Heroin Addicts Plight

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Naloxone administration training and distribution programs help to reduce overdose-related deaths. The state of Maine already has legislation allowing people to obtain Narcan using a prescription. Lawmakers wanted to remove this requirement as a means of combating the heroin crisis, which took 272 lives last year, as reported by the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

Janet Mills, the Maine Attorney General, wrote in a statement after the release of the death statistics that “More must be done to preserve lives and protect our communities from the negative effects that drug abuse has on us. Prevention, intervention, treatment and law enforcement all must play larger roles in stemming this deadly tide.”

However, Governor LePage decided last year that law enforcement should take precedent in the fight against the epidemic. He also batted away criticism of his approach by saying in a speech last year that despite the state spending $76 million on opioid treatment, its rate of success was low.

Now the governor is facing stronger criticism for vetoing the Naloxone accessibility bill. In a statement, Sen. Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth) said, “With this insensitive statement, Gov. LePage is insinuating that Mainers suffering from addiction are beyond reach – that they cannot be saved. I disagree. Narcan can be the difference between an early grave and an intervention that can put an addict on the path to recovery. We know that Narcan saves lives. It is incumbent on us to make sure it is readily available.”

Dr. Joseph Valdez, a certified addiction treatment physician, wrote an article for the Portland Press Herald where he said, “[The governor’s] logic [that increased access to Naloxone will lead to more heroin abuse] is faulty, and his statements serve only to perpetuate the stigmatization of individuals with addictions as bad people who make bad choices.”

Unfortunately for the critics, Gov. LePage has been steadfast in his belief that the law enforcement approach – agreed upon during a drug crisis summit last year – is the only way to stop the heroin epidemic in the state.

As he wrote in his letter to the legislature, “To truly fight the heroin crisis, we must get to the root causes.”  He advocated interdicting traffickers, expanding education and prevention efforts as the solutions.

Maine lawmakers are now trying to obtain a majority in the House to overturn the governor’s veto.