March 17, 2018
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Amid offers to help opiate users, LePage suggests death penalty for dealers

Gretchen Ertl | REUTERS
Gretchen Ertl | REUTERS
Gov. Paul LePage
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

Gov. Paul LePage kept his focus on fighting Maine’s opiate addiction epidemic Tuesday when he said he supports a pending bill that would make dealing drugs that cause an overdose Class A manslaughter.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, has been voted out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and awaits consideration by the full Legislature.

“I’m all in on that one,” LePage said of the bill, during a radio appearance Tuesday on WVOM. “I think it’s a great idea. If you can find the person who sold the drug that caused the overdose, I think that’s murder.”

A radio host pointed out that the proposed legislation calls for the dealer to be charged with manslaughter, not murder.

“Well, it’s the same thing,” LePage said. “I wish it was murder, and I wish it was capital punishment. We’d get rid of the problem much quicker.”

Maine lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 1876. Some lawmakers and legal observers have questioned whether Maine law already allows prosecutors to charge alleged drug dealers with manslaughter in cases when death results from their actions.

Tuesday’s exchange came as Maine’s addiction problem draws intense attention from many angles. Task forces are working on the problem at the state and federal levels, and there are several bills pending in Maine that seek to address various aspects of the problem. Last week, the national spotlight shone on Maine when President Donald Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price, attended a roundtable discussion at the State House about the problem.

Despite his focus, LePage’s approach in some instances has been lambasted. He has been critical of medication-assisted addiction treatment — which Price said clearly last week is an important tool for helping addicts — and has said repeatedly that reviving overdose victims with medications such as Narcan merely extends their lives until the next overdose. LePage is backing a bill this year that would charge addicts for Narcan after the first time it’s needed. The bill is still under consideration by the State and Local Government Committee.

LePage said he hopes Price’s visit attracts more federal funding to Maine and when it comes to addicts, he reached out Tuesday with an offer to help.

“If you’re a user, go get help. Go get help,” he said. “Seek help, some form of rehab or some form of help. … I’m not sure what we’re doing right now is really helping, but we have a lot of stop-gap measures.”

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services and the United Way announced the launch of a new texting option for addicts seeking treatment. Texting your ZIP code to 898-211 will connect callers with a Maine-based information specialist who will help them connect with treatment options.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

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