It’s no secret that opiate addicts in Maine are dropping like flies, and that a lack of viable treatment programs in the state is part of the problem.
Thanks to expanded access to naloxone hydrochloride, better known as Narcan or naloxone, lives are being saved, but Gov. LePage doesn’t see it that way.
During last night’s town hall meeting at the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland, LePage was asked about addiction treatment.
“Does drug treatment work, Mr. Governor?” shouted a member of the audience.
“Not with heroin,” said LePage with an apparent ignorance for reality.
“Narcan is not saving lives. It’s extending lives,” he concluded, citing phantom data saying that 90 percent of heroin users eventually die as a result of their addiction.
Thing is, naloxone is absolutely saving lives.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control has said that the use of naloxone by non-emergency personnel alone has reversed at least 26,463 overdoses between 1996 and June 2014.
LePage has long been an opponent to the expansion of access to naloxone.
“This bill would make it easier for those with substance abuse problems to push themselves to the edge, or beyond,” wrote LePage in a 2013 letter to the state legislature. “It provides a false sense of security that abusers are somehow safe from overdose.”
Having personally spoken with several people who’ve survived an overdose thanks to naloxone, it’s pretty clear that nobody is intentionally “pushing themselves to the edge” just because they have access to the life-saving overdose reversal drug.
Once naloxone enters the system, it immediately sends the person into withdrawal symptoms.
“Avoiding withdrawal is probably the biggest reason why I keep using,” a friend told me in 2014. “It’s the worst feeling in the world, it’s what makes addicts go crazy for their next fix… to avoid the withdrawal symptoms.”
This particular person, who has given me permission to tell his story but not to include his name, was brought back from the brink of death with naloxone.
He said LePage’s assertion that access to naloxone encourages addicts to push the limits when they ingest opiates is completely off base.
“Narcan saved my life, but it made me sicker than I’ve ever felt. As soon as it was in my system I woke up from the overdose and started puking and shitting my brains out. It was awful, a feeling I don’t ever want to experience again.
But I’m alive.”
If LePage had his way, my friend wouldn’t still be with us, nor would any of the other thousands of people who have been saved by naloxone over the years.
His comments last night in Portland are despicable, and reflect an utter lack of respect for human life.
Naloxone might not do much to help heroin and opiate users beat their addiction, although it could be argued that the experience is enough for some to scare them straight, but regardless of that, the fact is that naloxone saves lives. It doesn’t just give addicts another chance at recovery, it also gives them the chance to hug their family again, to pursue their hopes and dreams, and to see another sunrise.
At this point, just about every Mainer knows someone who wasn’t given that chance.
Saying that naloxone simply “extends lives” rather than “saves lives” is an extremely bleak and cold-hearted stance. That sort of thinking puts drug addicts in a sub-human class, it says that they aren’t worthy of a second chance at life, and that allowing them to die is acceptable.
“It’s an excuse to stay addicted,” said LePage in a 2014 press conference at the State House. “Let’s deal with the treatment, the proper treatment, and not saying ‘go overdose, and by the way I’ll be there to save you.'”
To date, LePage’s idea of “treatment” has been to call for more drug enforcement officers, which does nothing to cure the root problems causing the opiate epidemic because as long as there are addicts, there will be a market for drug traffickers. So we can’t just arrest the problem away, we’ve got to first address the addicts themselves.
Based on LePage’s comments last night, it sounds like he’s ok with the underground demand for opiates falling by way of allowing addicts to die, and it also sounds like he views survivors of overdoses as nothing more than a continued nuisance who would have been just as well off dead.
That may not be what the governor meant with his comments, but that’s the impression that he gave.
So at this point, Mainers would all be better off if the governor were to dig through his closet, find the largest tube sock that he has, and stuff it directly into his mouth.
That, or issue an apology for his insinuations at last night’s meeting.