In July 2014, I wrote an OpEd concerning the desperate need for a detox center in Bangor coupled with either an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program. Unfortunately, we still have the same governor with the same tired old policies.
Gov. Paul LePage’s five vetoes of bipartisan Medicaid expansion bills have shortchanged the recovery community of this kind of facility in the Bangor area. This governor, however, has seen fit to extend legislation expanding law enforcement and prosecution at the expense of treatment.
This mentality of incarceration as a means of curbing drug use has utterly failed. In the more than 40 years since it was implemented by President Richard Nixon in 1972, more than $1 trillion has been virtually burned into smoke with nothing to show for it. Furthermore, in 2013, Maine hospitals were projected to lose $900 million over 10 years without the expansion. This affects all Mainers, not just those in recovery.
In Maine, the cost of alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated at about $1.4 billion per year, or $1,057 for every Maine resident. This includes all aspects of the epidemic, from emergency room visits and hospitalization to law enforcement, incarceration, crime associated with substance abuse, lost work and death. Of this amount, only 3.3 percent was spent on treatment. It has been established that every dollar spent on treatment returns $7.46 in savings on other forms of substance abuse interdiction.
There are more than 2.3 million inmates crowding our nation’s prisons and jails, the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world. According to a 2010 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 65 percent of those behind bars have substance abuse issues, and 85 percent are there for some drug- or alcohol-related crime. Further, alcohol and drugs are directly involved with 78 percent of violent crime, 83 percent of property crime and 77 percent of public order, immigration, weapon and probation offenses. Yet, only 11 percent ever receive any kind of treatment. It’s a national nightmare and disgrace. With our jails overcrowded and funding scarce, does it make sense to incarcerate more nonviolent offenders? It’s past time to rethink policy in this country and in Maine.
LePage has shown his inability to manage state government by making himself politically irrelevant. His insistence on a law enforcement approach to substance abuse puts him well behind the curve even among his far-right counterparts and supporters.
The move nationally among conservatives who include the Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundation and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is to divert nonviolent drug offenders from ending up in our overcrowded jails and prisons. LePage insists on squandering enormous financial capital on failed ideology despite the research and evidence that has been compiled by scholars and organizations nationwide and here in Maine by the state’s Office of Substance Abuse. Members of the Legislature have failed their constituents, as well, by approving these foolish measures and failing to address treatment issues.
Moving forward, members of the Legislature need to educate themselves on the disease of addiction and alcoholism and take the next right step. Now that overriding vetoes has become the norm since LePage has broken all records with his vindictive veto pen, it is past time to expand Medicaid and reorient substance abuse policy to treatment instead of incarceration.
Bangor’s need for a treatment center will continue to go unheeded as long as this governor is allowed to have his way. How many more deaths will it take? How many more children born into addiction and put into foster care will it take? How many more broken families and how much more crime and how many overcrowded prisons will it take? It is necessary for those who are part of the recovery community and anyone who has been touched by this epidemic of addiction to give their state representatives notice that action is needed now.
Arthur Barry Adoff is a writer, graduate student at the University of Maine School of Social Work and member of the recovery community.