A Maine bill that would expand access to a lifesaving anti-overdose drug passed into law on Tuesday after Republican Gov. Paul LePage failed to follow through on a veto threat.
State Rep. Sara Gideon (D) introduced the bill in January. Under its provisions, family members of drug addicts, as well as police and firefighters, would be allowed to administer the drug naloxone without the fear of legal liability. The drug reverses overdoses from opioids like prescription painkillers and heroin. Police in places like Quincy, Massachusetts, have used it to reverse hundreds of overdoses.
But LePage has opposed the bill and similar measures in the past, despite a steadily rising toll from heroin deaths in Maine. He has argued that naloxone could provide drug users with a false sense of security, that it would cost too much or that it would be unsafe in the hands of first responders.
"It's an escape. It’s an excuse to stay addicted," LePage said of naloxone in March.
Public health researchers have rejected his claims.
LePage's staunch opposition to greater naloxone access seemed to flag earlier this month when he indicated he might be open to a compromise provision. But when Gideon reintroduced language that would allow first responders to carry naloxone, LePage said the bill faced a "certain veto."
Nevertheless, both the Maine House and Senate approved the bill by unanimous, bipartisan votes. In the process, the Senate Republicans added language to the bill providing for additional training for first responders before they received supplies of naloxone.
LePage spokesman Peter Steele did not respond to a request for comment, but the new language in the measure apparently provided LePage with an out on his veto threat. The bill became law without his signature at midnight.