AUGUSTA, Maine – Democrats on Monday reacted with dismay to Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would improve the chances that a person would survive a drug overdose.
LD 1044 was introduced by Rep. Ann Dorney, a practicing family physician, at the request of the Maine Medical Association. Dorney, D-Norridgewock, has during her 30 years of practice in Skowhegan become familiar with the growing problem of substance abuse in Maine.
“We have more drug overdose deaths in the State of Maine now than traffic fatalities. We can save lives with this legislation,” Dorney said. “Encouraging people to stay with someone who has overdosed dramatically increases the chances of survival.”
The bill was passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.
LD 1044 would provide a process for prosecutors to exercise their discretion when considering possible prosecution of overdose witnesses for drug possession. It would also provide an opportunity for the defense to argue the facts about what took place.
When people witness a drug overdose, they may be afraid to call 911 because they are worried about getting into legal trouble. An individual who has overdosed can benefit from CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but is often abandoned and dead by the time paramedics arrive.
Dorney has had several patients who have gone through overdose situations, including two whose children died from overdoses. Two others nearly died, including a mother of three children who was in a coma and survived because she was found.
Rep. Mark Dion, House chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said members worked on the bill carefully.
“The committee found the right balance between public health concerns and public safety concerns with this important measure,” said Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff and a practicing attorney.
Maine had an estimated 169 overdose deaths in 2010, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. That year, there were 161 traffic fatalities in the state.
It’s estimated that as few as 10 percent of individuals who witness an overdose call 911, with most doing so only after their attempts to revive the victims are unsuccessful, according to testimony from Jayne Harper, harm reduction educator for Kennebec County, an employee of MaineGeneral’s Prevention Center and member of the Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Misuse Task Force.