Legislators: Keep us safe

Maine State legislators have an enormous job. We rely on them to make good decisions on our behalf. We rely on them to help keep us safe. That’s why it’s important that they make decisions based on evidence and research. Evidence-based and evidence-informed policymaking means that our decision-makers are using what we know works to make policy and funding decisions about the problems facing our state.

It’s pretty simple: fund solutions that we know work, and don’t fund solutions that we know don’t work. Why would anyone do otherwise?

Here’s an example that impacts many Mainers.

We all know that Maine is in the midst of an opioid overdose death crisis. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are evidence-based policies that can help resolve that crisis, and they can be found in the Opioid Overdose Toolkit (the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and The Prescription Opioid Epidemic: An Evidence-Based Approach by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to the research, here are some of the actions Legislators can take – right now, during this legislative session – to help reduce overdose deaths.

FUND EDUCATION PROGRAMS about how to prevent and manage opioid overdose. EVERYBODY needs to know how to prevent an opioid overdose, and EVERYONE needs to know how to manage an overdose, but especially health care providers, people at risk for overdose, and family members of people at risk.

FUND TREATMENT for opioid use disorder. This is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the Maine Legislature this year. The sooner a person with opioid use disorder gets treatment, the better the chances are that the person won’t overdose. This means funding detox programs, inpatient rehabilitation programs, and medication assisted treatment (methadone and buprenorphine/Suboxone). Funding treatment for people who are at high risk for overdose, like people recently released from jail or prison, is especially important.

FUND NALOXONE distribution programs and create laws to ensure ready access to naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that can stop an overdose from happening. In rural areas of Maine, it is important for citizens to have easy access to naloxone, because first responders may not arrive at the scene of an overdose in time to reverse it. Right now, Maine legislators could find out why the DHHS hasn’t issued rules to implement a law passed last year to support distribution programs. Legislators could also keep an eye on the Board of Pharmacy, which is responsible for issuing rules this year on making naloxone available directly from the pharmacy. Other states have these laws in place, like Rhode Island, where you can get naloxone at all Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid pharmacies without a prescription from a doctor.

SUPPORT FIRST RESPONDERS to carry and administer naloxone. First responders are are often the first people at the scene of an overdose. There’s no reason that ALL first responders shouldn’t carry naloxone and know how to use it. In more populated areas where first responders are able to arrive at a scene quickly, the public should be encouraged to call 911.

SUPPORT SAFE PRESCRIBING PRACTICES of opioids. Maine has done a good job creating and implementing a Prescription Monitoring Program. Recent legislation now requires prescribers to check the PMP whenever they are prescribing an opioid or some other controlled substances and limits the amount of opioids that can be prescribed at one time. The legislation also requires prescribers to be educated about safe opioid prescribing and allows pharmacists to fill a small number of pills from a larger prescription, at the patient’s request. Legislators should make sure this legislation is implemented, and make any minor changes to the law where necessary.

Of course every legislator has to the weigh political realities in Augusta and back home when casting a vote. Let’s hope research and evidence also weigh heavily in their thoughts.

Alison Webb

About Alison Webb

Alison Webb is a public health consultant with over 20 years experience in community outreach, grassroots organizing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based programs, and advocating for healthy policies at the Maine State Legislature. Alison is especially interested in what science tells us about promoting health and wellness and how we can apply that to live well in Maine. The blog describes recent public health research and give readers insights into how to use that knowledge to lead healthy lives.