Bill in Maine helps local community responses to opioid epidemic

By Ramona du Houx

A bill to establish pilot drug addiction recovery programs to reduce substance abuse, related crimes and recidivism will become law after the governor signs it.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, LD 1488 helps local communities respond to the drug crisis by providing at least eight grants for substance abuse assistance pilot programs.

The programs would divert alleged low-level offenders into community-based treatment and support services to reduce the pre-trial costs to jails and the chances of recidivism.

“Those of us who have worked in law enforcement understand that we cannot arrest ourselves out of this epidemic,” said Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff. “This measure supports local communities that want to customize responses to meet their particular needs. We know that this kind of intervention will reduce recidivism and improve the chances of addiction recovery while saving taxpayer dollars.”

LD 1488 has advanced with through the Legislature with strong bipartisan support. On Saturday, a separate bill, LD 1606, provided $1.1 million in funding, allowing LD 1488 to go to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage.

LD 1488 is based on successful models in Seattle, Santa Fe and elsewhere. Under the law enforcement assisted diversion model, or LEAD, police officers are able to immediately redirect low-level addict-offenders to community-based treatment rather than to jail and prosecution. Intervention teams that include police, prosecutors and health care case managers would also help secure key support services such as housing, job training and health care.

A University of Washington study found that participants in Seattle’s LEAD program were 58 percent less likely to be arrested and 39 percent less likely to be charged with a felony over the long term. The study also found that police booked participants in jail 1.4 fewer times a year and that the jails and courts saved $8,000 on each participant over the course of a year, compared to someone on the typical criminal justice system route.

LD 1488 also allows regional jails and county governments to provide treatment to inmates so they will be better positioned for successful recovery after their release.  

The bill had the support of a broad range of Mainers and organizations, including from law enforcement, that are working to fight the state’s opioid epidemic.