LePage should follow the lead of Mainers fighting addiction on the front lines
Editorial by Representative Mark Dion of Portland.
Imagine a loved one – your spouse, brother or sister, or daughter or son – in the grip of drug addiction, trying to break free but unable to get the help they need. This nightmare is the reality for far too many families as Maine grapples with its heroin epidemic.
Before I was in the Legislature, I was the sheriff of Cumberland County. I can tell you that jail isn’t the solution to Maine’s drug crisis.
For too long, there’s been an overemphasis on law enforcement efforts without an equally determined commitment to prevention and treatment. Believe me when I say that an unbalanced approach to addiction just spins the criminal justice merry-go-round faster and faster. I’ve seen it with my own eyes – too many times.
Heroin overdose deaths in Maine have jumped from seven in 2010 to 57 last year. There are no signs that the future will be any better. Earlier this month, at least 14 people overdosed in Portland alone during a 24-hour period.
We can’t afford to take the outdated approach of trying to arrest ourselves out of this epidemic. Treatment can no longer take a back seat in our state strategy to reduce the threat posed by the ever-increasing presence of drug addiction in our communities.
That’s why I was encouraged to hear law enforcement officials who participated in Governor LePage’s closed-door drug summit say that Maine needs a comprehensive approach.
I hope the governor follows their lead. He has a history of opposing efforts to help people with addiction.
He’s fought measures to put the life-saving overdose medication Narcan in more hands and to encourage addicts to call 911 to report an overdose event. He’s also leaving federal dollars on the table that could go toward treatment.
And this week, just a couple of days before the governor’s public safety summit, a nonprofit addiction treatment facility in Sanford said it will close its doors. They said it was because of the LePage administration’s lack of funding support for treatment. It’s the second addiction treatment center this year to announce it is shutting down.
The LePage administration is also cancelling its contract with the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, which provides much-needed direct services, educational outreach and relapse-prevention support to addicts and their families.
Mainers trying to battle drug addiction were already having a hard time getting help. They languish on wait lists, unable to get the care they need.
Inadequate funding for these health centers will only increase the demand for drugs and do little to make our communities safer from out-of-state drug traffickers.
This year, lawmakers stepped up to bolster public safety efforts against drugs. The Legislature funded six additional drug agents, two more drug prosecutors, two new judges and drug court in Penobscot County.
It’s time that Maine’s leaders embrace a comprehensive, balanced and unified approach to this critical public health and safety issue.
I know that I, and my colleagues in the Legislature, stand ready to do our part. The heroin threat will require the best efforts of the administration, legislators and the judiciary.
The good news is that everyone actually on the front lines of the battle against drug addiction agrees on this.
Now, let’s move forward together.