Some Maine jails have used naloxone on inmates
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Several Maine jails told The Associated Press that they have used naloxone at least a half dozen times to reverse drug overdoses.
Last year 418 Mainers died from drug overdoses, an 11 percent increase compared to 2016. The nation saw over 63,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently issued an advisory encouraging more people to routinely carry naloxone.
A 2017 state law allows certified corrections officers to administer naloxone. Previously, for example, police officers and medical professionals but not jail guards could administer the overdose reversal medication.
Representatives of three county jails told The Associated Press that they have not yet trained all corrections officers to use the medication, which reverses opioid overdoses. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general said the office doesn’t track naloxone use in county jails, including whether medical staffers or guards at county jails administered such medication.
Several county jails — including Androscoggin County Jail, York County Jail and Somerset County Jail — told The Associated Press they have used naloxone to revive individuals. Kennebec County Jail Administrator Richard Wurpel said that a corrections officer in early April handed a naloxone spray kit to a medical professional who used the medication to save a young women’s life while she was being booked.
Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, vice president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, said he supported the law because individuals brought in for booking may be under the influence of opioids. Not all Maine correctional facilities have 24-hour medical staffing, he said.
“It’s difficult that correctional facilities are specializing in substance abuse issues, mental health issue and behavioral issues,” Morton said.
The bill became law in mid-2017 after lawmakers overrode the veto of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has long argued that naloxone alone enables individuals addicted to drugs.
“Rather (than) invest in special training for corrections officers to administer Narcan, counties should instead invest in medical services,” LePage said. He also said the legislation didn’t address whether corrections officers would be immune from lawsuits if something goes wrong with administering naloxone.
In 2014, there were 1,053 deaths in local jails nationwide, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics . Across the nation, deaths due to drug-alcohol intoxication increased from 72 in 2013 to 90 deaths in 2014.
Once individuals abstain from drugs while in jail or prison, they could be at greater risk of overdose because their tolerance for opioids has decreased, said Andrea Littlefield, director of development and communications for the Maine Health Equity Alliance. The group calls for more access to medication-assisted treatment for individuals in correctional settings, along with expanded access to naloxone in general.
“Treatment available in a correctional facility will help more people than just abstinence,” she said.
The group provided over 200 doses of naloxone last year that were used to reverse at least 60 drug overdoses, Littlefield said.
Though a 2015 law allows community-based drug overdose prevention programs to take such steps, the LePage administration has yet to finalize regulations needed to officially implement the law. Patty Hamilton, Bangor’s public health director, says the city is waiting on the state to take such action.
The Department of Health and Human Services didn’t respond to a request for comment.