Editorial by State Senator Anne Haskell, from Portland
It’s becoming more urgent every day for state leaders to work together as more and more Mainers become victims of drug addiction.
It’s no secret that Maine has a drug addiction problem. Here in Portland this summer, our city experienced a hellish 24-hour period that saw 14 people overdose on heroin. Two people died, and more deaths likely would have occurred if not for the heroic work of our emergency responders.
The story from a statewide perspective is even worse.
In the first half of 2015, 105 of our friends and neighbors died from a drug overdose. Of those, more than half were caused by heroin or fentanyl, a narcotic that’s 40 or 50 times stronger than pure heroin.
Our state is becoming a case study on rampant drug addiction. Stories of suffering Mainers — or worse, their mourning families — are making headlines around the country.
Last week, I was honored to attend an annual celebration hosted by Day One, a substance abuse treatment center for young people in our state. The keynote speaker was Chris Herren, a former player for the Boston Celtics. He recounted his own harrowing story of addiction, which followed him throughout his pro sports career.
Herren’s story makes clear that drugs don’t only prey upon people in the streets. They come for all — rich and poor, rural and urban, black and white. This is a problem for all Maine people.
Make no mistake, the epidemics of drug addiction, overdose and death are one of the biggest threats facing our state. Last week, Gov. Paul LePage made an unexpected visit to the Appropriations Committee, where he issued a heartfelt call to action.
I share the governor’s passion to fight this fight. But I disagree with his approach. He told the committee he is focused on law enforcement alone. He demanded the Legislature provide more agents to fight the drug war, but has little interest in increasing our support for treatment and education.
If our drug crisis is anything, it is complex, as Chris Herren’s story illustrates. We need a commitment from not only our state and local leaders, but our everyday Mainers, to stop this epidemic for good. That means a holistic approach that combats drug addiction on multiple fronts.
Of course we have to put bad guys in jail. But we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Every time we arrest a drug dealer, a new one will cross our state borders with the intention of poisoning our friends, our neighbors, and our children. So we must also treat those suffering from addiction, and prevent others from becoming addicted in the first place.
After all, if there is no demand for drugs, there will be no business for dealers in Maine.
It is time to act now, before the disease of addiction can claim any more lives. The Legislature has always taken the drug crisis seriously, and we will continue to do so. The bipartisan budget provided additional resources to fight the drug crisis head-on. We know that we must do more.
Democrats are ready to work with the Gov. LePage to put together a plan that addresses trafficking, addiction and treatment. It is my sincere hope the governor will collaborate with us — not just make demands — to tackle this catastrophe and save lives.