On Tuesday, January 19, a $3.7 million bill funding 10 new Maine Drug Enforcement Agents, drug recovery programs, and a detox facility in the Bangor area was signed by Governor LePage. This bill is a step in the right direction for Maine, and support from both sides of the aisle for funding treatment contributed to the quick passing of the bill - which was signed despite Gov. LePage’s initial threat to veto.
Despite differences and concerns about treatment approach, law enforcement funding, and where the funding is coming from, the legislature was able to make progress on solving heroin related problems in Maine. This is a positive step in a crisis that has mostly been talked about in Maine with little headway made on solutions.
Moving forward, we hope that politicians will continue to come together and listen to the experts when it comes to what is the most effective way to combat drug addiction in the state of Maine. There is still work to be done and there are decisions to be made about what course of action will be the most productive in reducing heroin addiction in our state. Health practitioners have expressed concern that this bill does not adequately address treatment of heroin addiction on fiscal and medical levels, and it is important that this funding is put to use with great prudence.
Another concern is that this drug bill too heavily emphasizes the drug crisis as a law enforcement issue - with half of the funding being used to supplement a swift hiring of 10 new drug enforcement agents. The decision to fund more law enforcement is concerning, as both health and law enforcement officials in Maine have spoken out about the need for more treatment - and as existing treatment centers are forced to turn away Mainers in need of help or close their doors.
Among cautiously positive testimony at the public hearing on January 5 was the ACLU’s testimony in support of all parts of the bill related to treatment and prevention, and in opposition to funding further law enforcement. As the ACLU pointed out in its testimony, drug arrests are increasing in tandem with overdose deaths - not preventing them. Further, while the administration emphasizes that it wants to go after dealers and traffickers, the arrests that are being made are mostly for possession. The ACLU’s testimony also addresses the egregiously large amount of funding designated for hiring law enforcement agents, and asks for clarity and transparency on how and why this funding will be used moving forward.
Gov. LePage’s continued emphasis on law enforcement as a solution to the drug crisis in Maine becomes increasingly problematic when his racist comments are taken into consideration. These comments are indicative of a devastatingly misguided approach to solving the drug crisis that relies on racial profiling and stereotypes. It is essential that our approach to Maine’s drug problem be based on facts, and that bigotry and racism will not pollute the positive steps that have been taken.
Seeking out health officials who have experience addressing drug addiction in Maine, and actually listening to what they have to say, is the best way to address the drug crisis. This bill is a step forward and an opportunity to shape Maine’s drug crisis as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice problem.