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Trump health secretary calls opioid antidotes ‘imperative’

May 10, 2017 GMT

              U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, left, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, center, and Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Trump, conduct a meeting to discuss the state's efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, Wednesday, May 10, 2017, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. The meeting includes relatives of those struggling with addiction as well as representatives from the recovery community, drug treatment specialists and law enforcement officials. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, left, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, center, and Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Trump, conduct a meeting to discuss the state's efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, Wednesday, May 10, 2017, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. The meeting includes relatives of those struggling with addiction as well as representatives from the recovery community, drug treatment specialists and law enforcement officials. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
1 of 5
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, left, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, center, and Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Trump, conduct a meeting to discuss the state's efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, Wednesday, May 10, 2017, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. The meeting includes relatives of those struggling with addiction as well as representatives from the recovery community, drug treatment specialists and law enforcement officials. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The head of the nation’s Health and Human Services Department said it’s imperative to make opioid reversal medication available. He spoke in Augusta following an event that honed in on Maine’s opioid crisis.

Price said the key is guiding people who receive opioid reversal drugs toward treatment. He made the comments after being asked about Gov. Paul LePage’s bill to force communities to charge people who receive repeated shots of overdose reversal drugs.

Price, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway and LePage met at the Statehouse with residents struggling with addiction, drug treatment specialists and law enforcement officials.

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Liza Parker, a 26-year-old who said she’s been clean from heroin for 15 months, wiped tears from her eyes as she told reporters about her journey to recovery, including a stay at Open Door Recovery Center’s Hills House in Ellsworth with her young children.

“I got rid of my cellphone, moved to a new community, and surrounded myself with healthy people,” she said. Her addiction to heroin consumed her life, and she let drugs “take everything,” she said.

She said there should be more programs available like Hills House.

Conway said Republican President Donald Trump has made combatting opioid addiction a “centerpiece” of his administration. She said those closest to the opioid crisis best know what is “necessary and desired.”

Protesters chanted “Shame!” outside the meeting, and said Republicans are jeopardizing access to health care, including coverage of mental health and addiction needs, by proposing to give states more flexibility.

Kimberly Simmons, of Portland, said LePage’s “punitive” policies and attempts to restrict Narcan, an opioid reversal medication, come as the state struggles to provide enough drug prevention and treatment opportunities.

Democratic Rep. Patricia Hymanson, the House chair of the Legislature’s health and human services committee, said her committee would keep working on substance abuse issues despite not being invited to Wednesday’s event.

“Unfortunately, the directives issued by both Gov. LePage and President Trump in the past week run counter to evidence-based research that provide the tools necessary to treat this epidemic,” she said.

The Associated Press this month reported on a Trump administration proposal that would slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the lead White House office shaping policy on the nation’s opioid crisis, by 94 percent.

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LePage said state spending on substance abuse treatment for Medicaid members and the uninsured increased from $57 million in 2008 to $82 million this year.

The state passed a strict opioid prescribing law last year, and the LePage administration has supported recovery programs for pregnant women with substance abuse disorder.