AUGUSTA — Spurred by Maine’s opioid addiction crisis and heroin deaths, lawmakers are considering a bill to require that state education officials prescribe how students are taught about substance abuse.
“We need to make sure that our children are not going down a dangerous path,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. His bill, L.D. 1594, would direct the Maine Department of Education to develop a substance abuse education policy for middle school and high school students.
Currently, the state requires all schools to have such a policy, and offers guidelines and resources to develop it, but leaves it to local districts to create the actual policy.
That leaves gaps, McCabe and other supporters said Monday at a public hearing on the bill before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
“Many schools are proactive. Others put their heads in the sand and say they don’t have that problem there. Well, guess what. It’s everywhere,” said Henry “Skip” Gates, a former math teacher who became an educator on drug addiction after his son died of a heroin overdose six years ago.
“We are in the throes of an addiction epidemic,” Gates told the committee. “L.D. 1594 will do for drug education what similar bills have done for sex and smoking-cessation education. Education might have saved my son Will.”
The education committee is scheduled to hold a work session on the bill Tuesday.
The Maine School Management Association, the Maine School Boards Association, the Maine School Superintendents Association and the Maine Principals’ Association support the bill.
A spokeswoman from the state Department of Education, who testified neither for nor against the bill, emphasized that Maine is a local control state and that leads to policies where it is up to local districts to determine the best way to handle some education issues. But she added that more education would be good.
“We can always do better,” said Susan Berry, the department’s health education coordinator.
Other lawmakers also spoke in favor of the bill.
“I am not knocking the schools here,” said Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias. “Just as we have put a lot of focus on bullying in recent years, we should be putting the same effort forward to educate kids against drugs.”
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: