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  • Maine Public testimony reveals dire need for action to fight drug epidemic

    Editorial by Senator Linda Valentino from Saco. 

    We know that Maine’s drug addiction crisis requires swift action. That was confirmed again this week when we heard directly from citizens about the grip substance abuse has on their loved ones and their communities.

     I serve on the Legislature’s budget committee. We started work this week on a bipartisan plan to bolster drug addiction treatment and support our law enforcement efforts. This multi-pronged approach is an important first step to solving our drug crisis.

    However, there are some in Augusta who pay lip service to the seriousness of the situation, but then they argue we already do enough and spend enough. They say we need to pump the brakes on fighting back.

    But the drug crisis can’t wait while politicians bicker and argue and fight over political points.

     Mainers spoke out during a public hearing this week. People travelled from all over our state and waited hours to tell us about the gravity of the situation. They know there’s no time to waste.

     Police officers told us horror stories about families devastated when addiction claimed the life of a child or sibling. They want to help sick people in their towns find help, but often there aren’t enough treatment resources to go around.

    Health providers that specialize in treating the disease of addiction said they’re doing everything they can, but are unequipped to face an epidemic that just keeps growing.

    But the most chilling and heart-wrenching testimony came from a regular Maine mother from Freeport. She said her son had struggled with addiction for much of his life. Unable to find help in Maine, he had to go to Minnesota and Montana to get on the path to recovery. Things seemed to be going well. Her son came home and finally earned his high school degree. But one relapse was enough to mean he had to leave again. This time he was lucky enough to find help in New Hampshire.

    That mom begged us to put politics aside and take action now.

    2015 set a new record for heroin deaths in Maine. Five Mainers die every week from a drug overdose. We know that stereotypes about addicts don’t tell the true story. For the truth, you need to read the obituaries. There, you’ll learn that heroin addiction doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, or whether you have a college degree or not. It affects unemployed young people and adults with good-paying jobs and families alike.

    How many more families need to be torn apart because their son or daughter is sick and needs help, but can’t get it here in Maine? People who want to leave drugs behind shouldn’t have to leave their families and everything they know.

    Those in Augusta who ask us to slow down say the waitlists for drug addiction treatment are “short,” but we know that’s not the whole story. People who want to take the first step toward recovery can’t afford to wait weeks or even months. Every day outside treatment is a day that could be their last.

    We have to do better. That mom in Freeport expects us to do our jobs. We know what needs to be done to save lives and start stemming the tide of drug abuse and addiction. The time for talking is over. It’s time to act.