Currently showing posts tagged Drugs in Maine

  • Bipartisan drug prevention, enforcement and treatment bill signed into law by Maine governor

    Legislature unanimously enacts law to fight drug addiction

    By Ramona du Houx

    On january 18, 2016, a bipartisan bill to combat the drug crisis in Maine passed both bodies of the Legislature. LD 1537 “An Act to Combat Drug Addiction Through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery”, passed both the Senate and House unanimously as amended.  

    The new measure is in responce to Maine's drug crisis. Five Mainers are dying every week from drug overdose.

    The bill was sponsored by Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and co-sponsored by Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).The law includes efforts to reinforce Maine’s law enforcement capacity to fight drug dealers on the streets and to strengthen the state’s treatment efforts to help more struggling Mainers break free from addiction. Governor Paul LePage initially only wanted to help fund an increase in law enforcement.

    “While many others have advocated for law enforcement funding alone, Speaker Eves and President Thibodeau have helped change the conversation by fighting for a more complete approach. By championing prevention, treatment, and expanded resources for law enforcement, they’re standing with families like mine and yours,” said Karen Walsh, Portland parent of a young person in recovery.

    “We did what many skeptics said we could not: we came together to pass a bipartisan, targeted, meaningful plan to address the drug crisis in Maine,” said Speaker Eves. “Today, our law enforcement, medical professionals, families, and young people trying to build a better life for themselves heard our commitment to provide the help they desperately need.”

    The final $3.7m package includes vital funding for prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement.

     Funding for the MDEA agents comes from the Gambling Control Board while the prevention and treatment portions will be funded through the Maine Medical Marijuana Fund and grants to law enforcement for treatment initiatives will be administered by the Department of Public Safety. 

    The new law will provide $2.4 million for additional addiction treatment programs, including a new 10-bed detoxification facility to be located somewhere in the underserved Northern or Eastern Maine regions. It will also support increased access to treatment services for uninsured Mainers, and bolster peer support recovery centers, which help those in recovery avoid relapse.

    “With a divided Legislature, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. But we knew that to address the drug addiction crisis, we needed to put politics aside,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This plan addresses both the supply and demand side of our drug problem, and will result in more treatment options for Mainers struggling to escape the grip of substance use disorder.”

    The bill also supports continued funding for 10 new MDEA agents. Those agents, once hired, will lead additional investigations that will continue MDEA’s work to bust trafficking operations and keep drugs off the streets. Additionally, it provides start-up grants for local law enforcement agencies to establish projects similar to Scarborough’s Operation HOPE, to connect addicts with treatment, recovery and support services.

    The bill was signed into law, by Governor Paul LePage who said,"I had expressed concerns about funding sources and the grant-making authority, but I thank legislative leadership for their willingness to broker changes that both the administration and the legislature could support."

  • 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.

  • Maine State Sen. Haskell says LePage and lawmakers must take holistic approach to end drug crisis

     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.


  • Deaths related to heroin and fentanyl continue to climb in Maine- state needs more treatment programs

    Dramatization in a play of a police officer being too agressive towards a homeless drug addict. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    A preliminary analysis of drug deaths in Maine occurring in the first half of 2015 has shown that deaths related to heroin and fentanyl continue to climb, while the overall number of drug overdose deaths is on track to be similar to 2014 – which was the worst year on record.

    In the first half of 2015 the number of people who died from a drug overdose in Maine stands at 105.  Of that figure, 37 deaths were primarily attributable to heroin and 26 primarily to fentanyl, according to an analysis of case files conducted for the Office of the Attorney General by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  In all of 2014, 208 people died of overdoses, 57 primarily attributable to heroin and 43 primarily attributable to fentanyl.

    “These numbers are terribly distressing,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills.  “The first six months of 2015 show that this crisis continues unabated and we – everyone in the state of Maine – still have a great deal of work to do to get this under control. We need to address this crisis from all angles: education, prevention, treatment and interdiction.”

    Two caveats underscore these statistics: Based on experience in past years, the actual total for a year can vary about 15 percent up or down from twice the amount of the half-year mark.  Also, most toxicology reports reveal that the decedent’s blood contained numerous substances – cocaine, alcohol, fentanyl, heroin and other opioids or over-the-counter medications.  One death can be caused by multiple substances. 

    “It cannot be stressed enough – You do not take heroin, it takes you,” said Attorney General Mills.

    Governor LePage is convening a drug summit the week of August 24th. But, noticeably absent from the summit is any real focus on treatment and almost no one who works directly with addicts, or even recovering addicts themselves, have been invited.

    In the last four years, the number of drug arrests related to heroin has quadrupled--yet despite increased arrests, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin and morphine have increased 800 percent.

    "To tackle this drug crisis in any meaningful way, requires more than a one-pronged approach. One that addresses the supply side--ridding our streets of drug dealers--and, then the other side of the equation--treating people who are addicted to these drugs--which is the demand side.  If nothing else, it’s basic economics.  It’s all about stopping the flow by stopping the demand. As long as addicts need the product, there will always be drug dealers who step up to provide the supply.

    "While the number of Mainers seeking help for their addiction swells, Maine is failing to keep up with the demand for drug treatment. Doors to treatment and recovery centers in Maine keep closing. Just this year, Governor LePage attempted to defund drug treatment programs such as methadone treatment; and recently Mercy Hospital’s addiction recovery center in Westbrook closed its doors. The treatment programs that do still exist are reporting long wait lists for patients who want help.

    "If we are truly committed to defeating this scourge, it will take more than throwing out-of-state dealers in jail. We need to increase our commitment to treatment and support Mainers toward a successful recovery--and arrest those criminals who are feeding their habit.

    "As the Governor gathers folks at his drug summit next week, I for one will encourage that our state move away from his overly simplistic and outdated view of addiction--and, instead, push the discussion in a more thoughtful and comprehensive direction," stated State Senator Stan Gerzofsky, in a radio address. Gerzosky of Brunswick chairs the Criminal/Justice Committee in Augusta.

    If you or someone you know needs help getting treatment, dial: 211