While the opiate epidemic was not the focus of Governor LePage's town hall forum in Portland, Maine, last Tuesday, it did come up. The Governor focused on his four focal points of welfare reform, income tax cuts, ways to lower energy costs and how to make college more affordable before he addressed the growing crisis. It came up during the question and answer portion of the forum and LePage was prepared to discuss it.
The Governor has been making efforts to increase the overall budget to discuss this crisis, with a focus on an increase of budget for law enforcement officials who will focus on going after opiate dealers. His focus is on reducing the supply of drugs that are available before focusing on treatment for those who are already addicted. While he supports drug treatment options, he is not as invested in spending more money on these programs. He states that the amount of money that goes towards treatment options is far higher than the success rates. He questions whether the expansion of treatment services will be an efficient and effective use of taxpayer’s money.
His stance was generally supported at the forum, but others believe that it is important to provide more prevention services to opiate addicts. Justin Alfond, the Senate Democratic Minority Leader, was also at the meeting to provide further information on the importance of treatment availability. He believes that while there needs to be an expansion of prevention support in Portland, there continues to be a growing need for treatment options for those who are addicted to opiates in the area. He believes that enforcement is only one part of the equation and that using that alone would not do enough to stem the growing epidemic. However, he does support a recent drug plan that is going into effect shortly.
There is a group of legislatures that are gearing up to support LePage's statement with a comprehensive plan to fight drug use across Maine. Both Alfond and Mike Thibodeau, the Senate President, are working to combat this crisis and there is money that is coming into the state soon. However, this only addresses the prevention side as it will provide support for ten new DEA agents in Maine. Discussions about how to best approach the opiate crisis will continue until the rate of addiction and access to illegal and legal opiates lessons.
In addition to these issues, LePage took questions regarding recent issues of immigration for Syrian refugees. He was asked about Donald Trumps recent proposal for an overall ban of Muslims entering the United States. This stance from the presidential candidate comes after a wave of fear washed through the U.S. following terror attacks in Paris.
While the Governor continues to hold the stance that there should be a very strict policy for vetting Syrian refugees who are entering the United States, he holds firm that it is a national issue and that he is not running for president so his views are less important on the subject.