Following questions from Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond on Thursday, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration says it is finally moving forward to establish a new detox facility approved and funded by the Legislature six months ago.
The administration claims it has followed an appropriate timeline of its own choosing. However, the authorizing law required the administration to begin funding the detox center by June 30, 2016. Instead, a DHHS spokeswoman said it is “tentatively” scheduled to take the very first step — issuing a request for proposals — sometime next week.
“It was good to see how quickly Gov. LePage moved to fund new law enforcement measures contained in the very same law that created this detox center. So why the snail’s pace when it came time to focus on treatment?” said Sen. Alfond. “He and his administration can hide behind bureaucratic red tape all they want, but the fact is there was no justification for this delay. The timetable was set by law.”
“The reality is that we are losing Mainers to drugs. Children are being born already drug-dependent,” Alfond continued. “The Legislature passed a good bill as an emergency in January so that we could tackle the drug crisis quickly. ‘Better late than never’ might be good enough for the governor, but I’d like to see him justify that to a family who has lost a loved one to addiction.”
Dr. Merideth Norris was the medical director of Spectrum Health in Sanford, a recovery program that provided medication-assisted treatment in the form of methadone, which closed its doors in August 2015 because of reduced state payments. The facility is to reopen under the management of Grace Street Services in July, and will offer comprehensive addiction treatment.
In the meanwhile, Dr. Norris has been treating low-income Mainers suffering from addiction at her private practice. Thanks to a lack of available care, her patients travel from all over the state, including from as far away as Deer Isle, to receive treatment.
“Until we address the demand for opioids by providing comprehensive treatment — including medication-assisted therapy — we can expect the overdoses and the deaths to continue,” Dr. Norris said. “A detox facility is a start, and can provide a safe environment where people can make the transition off drugs. But it’s just one piece of an integrative, balanced treatment plan. People in Maine are continuing to suffer and are continuing to die. They shouldn’t have to wait.”
The governor’s refusal to obey the letter of the law regarding the detox center is just the latest example of the executive branch’s blatant disregard for the law, the co-equality of the Legislature and the separation of powers:
- Earlier this week, Gov. LePage issued an executive order, saying he would not comply with portions of enacted law directing funding for county jails, pay increases for overworked and underpaid mental health professionals. Instead, he pledged to gut public health spending to pay for the initiatives.
- A Bangor Daily News investigation on Sunday revealed that DHHS has illegally spent federal dollars reserved for impoverished children on unrelated programs.
- Last week, Gov. LePage pledged to eliminate Maine’s administration of SNAP, a move that would violate state law, in an escalating fight with the federal government, proving Gov. LePage is willing to break the law to take food off the plates of hungry Mainers.
“Given everything we’ve seen in just the past few weeks, one has to wonder what other laws Gov. LePage plans to violate in reckless pursuit of his agenda,” Sen. Alfond said.