By Ramona du Houx
An Act To Clarify the Prescribing and Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists is headed to Governor LePage’s desk after it passed unanimously in the Senate. Earlier in the week it passed the House with a strong, bipartisan vote of 132-7.
The bill will allow for people under the age of 21 to have access to the life-saving drug Narcan. The governor has 10 days in which to take action, by either signing, vetoing or letting go into law without his signature.
“Overdoses can strike anyone at any time and in every opportunity, we should be trying to save every life possible. My colleagues in the legislature are well aware of this,” said Speaker Gideon. “While the hold-up of narcan dispensation has been beyond frustrating, I want to thank them for advancing this piece of legislation. We can no longer ignore the impact of this epidemic, disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment and clearly, we can no longer delay access to life-saving medicine. I urge the governor to take immediate action.”
In March of 2018, after an unexplained six-month delay, the Board of Pharmacy finally took action on proposed rules related to the original legislation, LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists. However, due to a last-minute request by Governor LePage, the Board amended the proposed rules to raise the age the anti-overdose drug could be dispensed to 21, from 18 as originally written. Gideon immediately began working on legislation to override this action.
The Board of Pharmacy’s public comment period on the rule change closes April 15, 2018. A public hearing on the change was held April 5, with many speaking against the over-21 restriction including the Health Equity Alliance, the Maine Medical Association and number of certified drug and rehabilitation experts. In addition, members of the Legislatures Health and Human Services Committee, the Opioid Task Force and Preble Street Resource Center all submitted written comment in favor of lowering the age of dispensation.
“This legislation seeks to redress the previous actions, which had no basis in medical research or expert opinion and directly contradicted legislative intent,” said Gideon. “To truly start combatting this epidemic, we need cooperation and leadership from all branches of government, including the Executive Branch. Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on this crisis.”
BACKGROUND ON PHARMACY DISTRIBUTION OF NALOXONE
Lawmakers initially approved making naloxone available without a prescription in April 2016 (LD 1547, An Act To Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride). At the request of the Board of Pharmacy, the Legislature clarified the language with an amended bill with the intent that dispensation would begin soon after rulemaking. LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists, was passed by the Legislature in May of 2017.
The Maine Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously August 3, 2017 to approve rules related to LD 1594. For six months, the rules were stuck in uncertainty due a lack of action from the Executive Branch. Speaker Gideon issued a joint letter with Senator Troy Jackson urging the Board to take action on January 27, 2018. In February 2018, the rules were finally published and a period of public comment began that will close April 15, 2018.