Imagine the horrifying prospect of finding a family member or friend overdosed on heroin. The person’s eyes are rolled back, lips a deep blue color, barely breathing. You frantically dial 911, but watch helplessly as the person’s condition worsens. You hold your loved one in your arms. Screaming, you feel their heartbeat stop just minutes before the rescue workers show up and declare the person deceased.
Now, imagine that you had been able to save the person on your own. In this scenario you find the person overdosing, but instead of helplessly waiting on the ambulance you grab a syringe of Narcan (also known by it’s generic name, naloxone) and administer the shot, which is quite similar to an Epipen used by people with bee allergies. You still call the ambulance, but as you wait for the rescue workers your loved one returns from the brink of death instead of crossing over it.
As the Narcan quickly works to reverse the effects of the overdose, the recovery process will include abnormal skin sensations, anxiety, diarrhea, fever, goose bumps, nausea, muscle pain, internal stomach pain, runny nose, , sneezing, sweating, tremors, vomiting, and terrifying hallucinations.
In each scenario you would walk away shaken and traumatized, but your loved one walks away only if he or she gets the Narcan.
Figures for statewide overdose deaths caused by opiates like heroin, methadone, or OxyContin, are staggering. In 2011 the number was 156 and it rose higher to 163 in 2012. Numbers for 2013 are not yet available but the state medical examiner expects them to continue the upward trend. So we’re looking at about 1 death every other day statewide.
You’re probably asking yourself, “if it’s as simple as a Narcan injection to reverse an opiate overdose, why are so many people still dying from them in Maine?”
Because Governor LePage won’t allow the legislation that would broaden the accessibility of Narcan to pass, that’s why.
Last legislative session Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock, who is a doctor, submitted a bill which would have allowed people like police officers and family members of addicts to obtain Narcan through a physician. The bill also included a provision of impunity for anyone who reported an overdose to 911, a clause which verifiable facts prove would help to save countless lives as well.
Not surprisingly, Dorney’s bill passed. Sickeningly, LePage pulled out his veto stamp, ending any chance of the second scenario mentioned (the one where your loved one lives) from happening.
Lepage, who thinks that reducing drug abuse is as simple as “keeping drugs away from users” explained his reasoning for vetoing the life saving measure, “This bill would make it easier for those with substance abuse problems to push themselves to the edge, or beyond. It provides a false sense of security that abusers are somehow safe from overdose if they have a prescription nearby.”
So either the Governor is ignorant enough to think that opiate users overdose for the thrill of it, or he’s crazy enough to think that things like diarrhea, vomiting, and hallucinations sound like a good time.
Simply because the remedy is available does not mean that users will aim for an overdose. That’s like a person with bee allergies stomping on a live hive just because they have an Epipen handy.
In the past few years Mainers have become accustomed to the man in the Blaine House mis-characterizing the poor and marginalized. I get as offended and upset as any Mainer out there when he pulls his embarrassing stunts, but issues like this really stand out as especially heartless and cruel because it’s so obvious that his delusional stubbornness is literally causing people to die.
Let me reiterate for clarity- Governor LePage is literally killing people with his policies.
Thankfully the push to expand access to Narcan didn’t end with the Governor’s veto of Dorney’s bill. Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is now sponsoring a similar bill that would allow police officers, volunteer firefighters, drug users and members of their family to have a syringe of the life saving medication available in the case of an overdose.
This past Tuesday night LePage gave his State of the State address in predictable fashion. He spent a good chunk of the speech harping on drug users and dealers, but never mentioned drug treatment. He preached an aggressive, backwards strategy, “We must hunt down dealers and get them off the streets. We must protect our citizens from drug related crimes and violence.”
If the Governor truly cares about “protecting our citizens”, he will change his attitude towards Narcan and endorse Gideon’s second-effort bill. Then he’ll apologize to all of the families of the people who have overdosed on his watch because his ignorant, inept leadership contributed to their deaths in more ways than one.
Writer’s note: On November 1, 1997 a cousin of mine, named Anthony “Tony” Terroni, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 22 in Portland. He lived a difficult life filled with personal struggle, and had only used for seven months before passing. I wonder what may have been had there been a syringe of Narcan available the night he overdosed, and can’t imagine why anyone would stand if the way of making the life saving drug available to people. Please take the time to learn my cousin’s story at www.rememberingtonyt.com, which is a website created by Tony’s mother and siblings (my aunt and cousins). It’s a moving tribute to a beautiful, yet troubled soul and it offers an inside look into the depression and mental illness that so often drives anguished people to seek an escape through drugs. Thank you.