AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Board of Pharmacy raised the proposed age to obtain an overdose-reversing drug available without a prescription on Thursday, winning Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s approval and clearing the way for pharmacists to make the drug available.
The governor directed a senior policy adviser to sign off after the board increased the age for obtaining naxolone from a pharmacist from 18 years old to 21 years old just days after the governor said it should be the same as the state’s limit for tobacco purchases.
The decision ends rule-making limbo, but leaves hard feelings.
House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, accused the Board of Pharmacy of caving to the governor’s “petulant action” for a compromise that ran counter to legislators’ intent.
“Addiction knows no age,” Gideon said. “In every instance, at every age, we should do everything in our power to save every life possible,” she added.
Officials in Maine and the rest of New England are grappling with an epidemic of addiction and deaths associated with heroin, the painkiller fentanyl and prescription opioids. The state set a record in 2016 for the total number of overdose deaths with 376, compared with 272 the year before.
Nationwide, more than three dozen states already allow people to get naloxone, known as Narcan, without a prescription.
But LePage has opposed widespread distribution of naloxone, arguing that the life-saving drug is a crutch that keeps people using drugs.
Democrats were frustrated first by the inaction on the naxolone rules and then by the compromise that Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett called “a face-saving measure” meant to protect the governor.
“It’s really unfortunate that governor seems to be playing the role of God in determining whose life can be saved and whose life shouldn’t be saved,” Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, said before the vote.