AUGUSTA, Maine — A task force formed three months ago by the state’s top drug enforcement and treatment agencies will visit a dozen Maine communities in 2016 to capitalize on one of the most powerful tools against drugs: public awareness.
U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II said Thursday that the task force created in August and its three subgroups — which focus on law enforcement, treatment and prevention — are meeting regularly and have already seen positive results, including securing grant funding to hire two new agents for the Maine Information and Analysis Center, which shares intelligence about drug cases among various agencies.
While the group works on across-the-board recommendations, Delahanty said the value of the fact that drug addiction has become a front-and-center issue among the public cannot be overstated.
“Our goal is not just to identify to the public that there is a problem,” said Delahanty. “We want to talk to people about what they can do in their own homes and communities. … This whole drug problem has developed over at least a decade and has come to a pinnacle at this point. It is a crisis and we have to act quickly and appropriately.”
Delahanty said the road show that starts next month is designed to both solicit ideas and to advance the public discussion with the intent of convincing people to take action if they see signs of addiction around them.
“Hopefully people are becoming more aware of the heroin problem,” he said. “The stereotype of it is people shooting up in back alleys and dark warehouses. That’s not happening. It affects people in all social strata and people in all different lines of work.”
The crisis, which has built in recent years mostly around the abuse of heroin and opioid prescription medications, shows no sign of abating. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said Thursday at a news conference that at least 21 Mainers died from drug overdoses in a recent monthlong stretch and that over a longer period, the state is averaging about five overdose deaths a week, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, LePage and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves continued to trade barbs over a $4.8 million bill that will be under consideration by the Legislature in January. The proposal calls for $2.4 million in new money to hire 10 new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigators and $2.4 million to expand treatment and recovery services.
On Dec. 10, Eves sent LePage a letter describing in broad swipes the content of the legislation. LePage reacted with a letter to Eves on Thursday that brimmed with criticism. LePage has applauded the Legislature for committing to funding the 10 new agents but has been highly critical of increasing treatment and prevention funding.
“It is not compassionate to wait until bodies hit the floor, then test which way the political wind is blowing before you decide to do what’s right,” wrote LePage. “The Legislature is constantly in a state of reaction, always waiting for a crisis to develop before finally taking steps to address it.”
Eves, whose relationship with LePage is in tatters following a months-long investigation into how LePage forced Eves out of a job at Good Will-Hinckley, issued a statement in response to LePage’s letter on Thursday afternoon.
“I refuse to play personality politics with the governor,” said Eves. “[Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau] and myself have put forward a plan that begins to address the public health crisis. If the governor has a plan, he should share it.”