April 24, 2018
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LePage’s plan to get tough on drug abuse needs to be more than a campaign speech

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

One can only hope that Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement this week about his plan to get tough on drugs is authentic and not a campaign speech, because truthfully it sounded like one.

At a time when state agencies and state-funded programs are struggling to sustain levels of service amid budget cutbacks, it’s a bit curious that the governor’s office suddenly has suggested a heaping dose of funding to “eradicate” drug trafficking in Maine.

“I’m not here to say that eradicating the drug trafficking trade is a silver bullet,” LePage said at a crowded news conference this week.

“Eradicate” might have been a poor choice of word or perhaps the governor is really that optimistic, but so far no one has been able to do that anywhere.

Providing additional resources to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, which has seen a 60 percent reduction in its federal funding, certainly may help the battle.

LePage further proposed adding four judges to bolster drug courts and four new drug prosecutors for the Maine attorney general’s office.

The price tag for the positions alone is $2.7 million, the governor’s spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett told me this week.

Of course, each additional client added to the drug court docket must undergo drug abuse treatment.

This week Hartwell Dowling, who heads up Maine’s speciality courts, said drug court participants are asked to pay for some of that treatment if they have private insurance or are on MaineCare. If they aren’t covered, the funding generally is provided through the Department of Health and Human Services through the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

The reduction in MaineCare benefits for “noncategoricals,” mostly childless adults who don’t qualify for disability, already is making it tricky to ensure that funding is available for the substance abuse treatment required of drug court participants, he said.

Adding folks to the docket certainly would require more resources.

It would be up to the Legislature to identify where those funds would come from, Bennett said, adding “something else would have to be cut.”

So here is where I begin to get suspicious.

The governor gets to stand before a crowd and say things like “… we want to get the people who bring the poison into the state, we want to get them off the streets” and “To me this isn’t about money it’s about our people.”

See, it sounds a bit like a campaign speech to me.

And if the money can’t be found?

Well, that’s the Legislature’s fault and clearly they don’t care about drug-addicted babies as much as the governor does.

Too skeptical?

Perhaps, and my apologies if I am.

During Tuesday’s news conference, LePage also said that those convicted of low-level drug crimes were not causing overcrowding problems in Maine jails, a statement bolstered by Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who said her county jail had plenty of room.

That’s good, I guess.

On Thursday, Bennett said the governor was committed to the issue of drug abuse in Maine and it was important to bring it to the podium because no one was talking about it.

Maybe not where she is, but we’re certainly talking about it out here. The drug problem has changed the social landscape of towns and cities across the state, including here in Bangor — which has become methadone central — and trust me, people here are talking about it.

Maybe LePage’s concern and commitment is authentic and his office and the Legislature can put partisanship and skepticism aside to do some real work that encompasses enforcement, treatment and prevention.

Because many of us looking around our own communities are losing hope fast.

You can reach Renee Ordway at reneeordway@gmail.com.


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