GARDINER, Maine — Maine residents over the age of 18 who struggle with or know someone facing addiction could buy overdose-reversing medication without a prescription under draft regulations unveiled by the state pharmacy board Thursday.
The draft regulations allow Maine pharmacists to prescribe and dispense naloxone directly to individuals over 18 at risk of opioid overdose and their loved ones. The rules would require pharmacists to receive two hours of training on topics like opioid overdose prevention and safely dispensing overdose-reserving medication.
Last year, Maine lawmakers passed a bill to make naloxone available without a doctor’s prescription, but the law languished as regulators said lawmakers needed to change its wording for it to become effective. Pharmacy Board President Joseph Bruno has said the lengthy delay is frustrating because the opioid epidemic is worsening, with 376 overdose deaths last year, up from 272 in 2015.
In June, a bill that explicitly says prescribers themselves can dispense naloxone became law without the signature of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has raised concerns about individuals receiving multiple shots of naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan. For the law to go into effect, the state must pass regulations, which must first go through a public hearings process.
Several pharmacists said Thursday they worried that the draft regulations’ proposed age limit would restrict access to young people, who may be at risk themselves or have a loved one struggling with addiction. The bill presented in June did not call for an age restriction.
“I think that there are people younger than 18 that are getting themselves into trouble, so to restrict it to 18 and older, we’re still not covering the full population of people that are abusing opiates,” said Maine pharmacist Carl Boucher, of Eddington.
Meanwhile, former Maine Pharmacy Association president Kenneth McCall said it seems like a “prudent” approach and that minors could still access naloxone through a prescription.
“I, as a parent, would want to know if this was being dispensed for my child,” said McCall, a University of New England pharmacy professor.
“It certainly increases access as drafted beyond our current regulations that require a prescription,” McCall said of the drafted rules. Currently, Maine residents with a prescription can get naloxone, which comes in an injectable form, and a Narcan nasal spray that typically costs around $50.
Forty-seven states have expanded access to naloxone in some form, and the White House commission on combatting the nation’s opioid commission this week urged President Donald Trump to provide model legislation for states to allow naloxone dispensing through standing orders.
Maine joins a handful of states, including Connecticut, that in recent years have passed laws allowing pharmacists who go through opioid overdose training to directly prescribe naloxone to patients.
Other states have different ways for pharmacists to dispense naloxone without an individual prescription. CVS Health spokeswoman Erin Britt said the pharmacy chain is closely following Maine’s regulatory process, and said the chain now dispenses naloxone without an individual prescription in 42 states, through mechanisms like local agreements with local physicians.