Vetoing Anti-Overdose Drugs Doesn’t Stop Addiction

A longer, opinionated version of the article I wrote for Outloud:

In April, Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would allow pharmacists to give out an anti-overdose drug without a prescription.

According to LePage, the drug, naloxone, “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

He went on to say that passing the bill will create “a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other,” and stressed that it will “[produce] a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

Many don’t share his callous point of view, however, and 30 states allow naloxone to be sold without a prescription.  

Even those that know LePage for his racist rhetoric and expect the worst from him weren’t expecting something so insensitive. His veto made it known that he thinks those struggling with heroin addiction don’t have lives worth saving. He sees naloxone as a way to help people fuel their addictions, as if it was a choice and a personal flaw – he doesn’t see the drug as a way to help them recover.

Ultimately, Maine lawmakers overruled LePage’s veto.

Naloxone, which is inexpensive, easy to administer and harmless to others, has allowed families to save loved ones from overdosing. In Maine, where a heroin epidemic claimed the lives of 272 people in 2015 alone, as reported by Portland Press Herald, the drug seems crucial in finding a way to prevent heroin related deaths to go up another 31%, like it did from 2014 to 2015.

In some states, Walgreens and CVS sell naloxone without a prescription. In February, Walgreens stated plans to make the drug available without prescription in 35 states and Washington D.C.

The “traditional” way to deal with the recent heroin epidemic is to start putting people in jail; however, it’s been proven time and time again that incarceration doesn’t “cure” addiction or prevent overdose. Some drug intervention programs have also been proven to be unsuccessful since they might curve addiction to something else, such as nicotine.

Psychiatrist Art Dingley of Evergreen Behavioral Services believes the best way to help get people off heroin is through a recovery motivational therapy model that helps users determine their challenges. Counseling begins by helping addicts determine where they think they are, in order to help those think they have a problem engage and make changes.

Dingley stated that if you can help someone to complete the first step, you can help them get off the drug and “back into life.”

Some programs now allow people to turn in illegal drugs, paraphernalia and misused prescription medication to police stations with amnesty. Maine State Sen. Tom Saviello wants to introduce a bill that will allow uninsured, incarcerated addicts to get healthcare insurance that will allow them to get treatment.

LePage’s attempt to deal with his state’s drug issue would have ultimately ended with more deaths – in a racially-charged town hall meeting, he blamed dealers with names like “D-Money” and “Smoothie” for the heroin crisis (later he apologized and claimed he wasn’t talking about black dealers).

Pointing fingers in the wrong direction, removing resources and arresting for possession won’t help decrease the number of heroin-related deaths, and the only way to really get help to those that need it is through personalized programs set in a supportive community.

Hotlines and resource centers include:

SAMHSA, a national helpline open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Recovery, a website useful for finding local addiction recovery centers or helplines.

TheGoodDrugsGuide.com for helplines for heroin addiction, along with addictions including crystal meth, cocaine and alcohol.

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