208 people lost their lives to drug overdose in Maine last year. From the trends seen in recent history, this number is expected to be higher in 2015. In the public policy front, very little is being done on drug treatment as Governor LePage is focused on getting more drug agents, officers and judges. As it has previously been evident, drug addiction is less of a law enforcement issue and more of a health issue.
For a more efficient and workable strategy, the governor should pay attention to Massachusetts, where Governor Charlie Barker, a fellow republican has established a well defined plan to curb opiate addiction. Massachusetts’ drug problem is closely similar to that of Maine. With over 1,000 drug overdose deaths in the state, an average of 1 death for every 6,750 people, the death rate is slightly lower than that of Maine.
In both states, the problem worsened as drug addicts who were addicted to prescription pain medications resulted to using heroin; a cheaper and a more readily available drug but which is very dangerous. Similar to in Maine, drug overdose deaths in Massachusetts each year have increased in the last few years. In response to this trend, Gov. Baker set up a task force mandated to curtail opiate use, with the aim of making treatment more readily available and controlling addiction related stigma. A total of $27.8 million budgetary allocation has been set aside for the task force alongside an additional funding of $6.7 million.
The proposal sets aside money for higher reimbursement rates for recovery houses, moving substance abuse users from prison to treatment facilities, and for educative school programs on the dangers of opiates.
The funding will also establish a treatment options database to allow for better monitoring of prescription medications and to help in enforcing laws related to over-prescription and improper procedures used in treatment facilities. New emphasis will be put in place on establishing stronger partnerships between health centers and correctional facilities for inmates to receive treatment.
Finally, it establishes the post of a deputy the commissioner of health and human services tasked with overseeing the plan’s implementation. The plan has received enormous support from chief executive of the statement, who in his public statements has voiced for the implementation of the plan.
Last year, Gov. LePage’s drug enforcement calls were scaled back and amended by lawmakers to feature treatment, then put on hold due to lack of funding. Last week in the budget passed, a similar but small-scale initiative was included. This strategy is of no help to the state at a point in time when addiction to opiate is at its highest and still rising. This has left the state in a situation where a large amount of money is being spent on drug (and alcohol) addiction in less effective ways.
Maine uses hundreds of millions of dollars on matters policing, prosecution and imprisonment of drug abusers, and additional tens of millions in aiding the deliverance of drug-independent babies while very little is going to treatment programs that would help save much of the unnecessary spending.
LePage is turning a deaf ear to the Democrats on their suggestions of a more defined and balanced drug addiction approach, one that recommends its treatment as a chronic illness. Maybe he will listen to the Governor of Massachusetts, Baker. Last month, Baker said that the solution to removing opioids is not a one general approach. He added that there will be need for a review on the way addiction is treated.