Maine lawmakers looking at bill to combat heroin overdoses

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February 12, 2014, 7:32 pm
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(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - Both heroin addiction and overdoses are on the rise in Maine, where the number of fatal overdoses jumped from seven in 2011 to 28 in 2012.

Now, state lawmakers are looking at legislation that could save lives by expanding access to a drug that reverses the drug's effects.

Testifying before the Health and Human Services Committee, Henry "Skip" Gates of Skowhegan, Maine recalled the worst phone call he ever got.

"'We regret to inform you that your son was found deceased in his apartment from a suspected drug overdose,'" said Gates choked with emotion.
And with that his first born son, Will, 21, a Presidential Scholar at the University of Vermont, was gone.

"With him died his dreams of medical school and any public health benefits his research may have illuminated," lamented Gates.

He was among those testifying in support of a bill that would greatly increase access to Naloxone, better known as Narcan, a drug that negates the effect of opiates almost instantly.

"We can save lives going forward by putting this drug into the hands of those who are likely to be with someone in an overdose situation," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Sara Gideon (D) of Freeport.

If passed, the drug would be made available to E.M.T.'s, police, firefighters, opiate users and their loved ones. It's an idea that makes sense to many in law enforcement.

"A few years ago we put AEDs (defibrillators) in cars," said Kevin Joyce, Cumberland County's Sheriff. "Why wouldn't we put these in cars? For $22 dollars we may save a life and the value is much more than $22."

While Gov. Paul Lepage (R) hasn't weighed in on this bill, he vetoed a similar measure last year out of concern that increasing availability to the drug might make users more careless.

Committee member Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R) of Chelsea agrees.

"We need to get to the programs that are going to help people reach recovery versus giving them a band aid shot that says you'll be ok now without addressing the root cause of their addiction," she said.

But supporters say Narcan may be the shot addicts needs, not just to survive, but to face their addiction head on and get onto the road to recovery.

Tags: maine, Amy Sinclair, Henry Gates, heroin , Paul LePage, heroin addiction, heroin overdose, heroin overdose legislation, Naloxone, Narcan, Deborah Sanderson, Sara Gideon
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