In Gov. LePage’s war on drugs, almost everyone is an enemy.
At a news conference Tuesday announcing a significant overall drop in the crime rate in 2013, the governor noted that drug offenses are on the rise so far this year, and he reiterated his call for more drug enforcement agents, prosecutors and judges. To solve the problem, LePage said, people need to be put away. “I’m not so concerned right now with those that are addicted,” he said.
At the same time, the governors of the other five New England states were meeting in Massachusetts to discuss what has become a region-wide crisis of opiate addiction.
So while LePage was pledging to fill Maine prisons with drug offenders and dismissing the Massachusetts meeting as “chit-chat,” the other governors were putting together promising solutions for a problem that does not honor state lines.
LePage is right to keep Maine’s drug problem in the public eye, but unless he drops his stubborn objection to any solution that doesn’t clog court dockets, it will only get worse.
LePage’s plan, announced early this year, was to add 14 agents, four assistant attorneys general and four judges to focus on drug enforcement and prosecution. Lawmakers worked out a compromise, with 10 agents, two prosecutors and two judges, plus $750,000 for drug treatment programs.
Arguments about funding slowed the bill in the Legislature, and a last-minute effort was scuttled by LePage’s refusal to compromise at all from his original proposal.
Still, he pushes for more boots on the ground. He has even – amazingly – suggested tougher mandatory minimum sentences, another policy proven a failure. At the same time, he dismisses the programs that help sick people get better.
As Maine’s drug problem has grown in recent years, funding for substance abuse programs has waned, and access to both inpatient and outpatient treatment has been cut back.
Without a strong substance abuse treatment network, addiction in Maine will continue to grow. More people will start to abuse heroin and prescription pain medication. Those who already have started will get worse.
And, as history has shown, no matter how many out-of-state dealers you arrest, more will come, as long as people here have an appetite for drugs.
Those dealers will end up in Maine prisons, and many of the users will be in and out of Maine jails, both groups taxing the system without solving any problems.
The other governors in New England have come to this same conclusion and are putting their resources into treatment. At the same time, they are working together to keep prescription pain medications – in many cases, the introductory hard drug – out of the wrong hands. As a supply-side tactic, that has its limitations, too.
But their plan could be the start of a regional effort to fight a problem that is too big for any one state. It’s time for LePage to realize they’re all on the same side.