SKOWHEGAN — During a discussion Friday about the growing opioid crisis, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine took aim at House Republican efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system just hours before the controversial bill was withdrawn.

In a meeting with health care professionals at Redington-Fairview General Hospital, he said Republican proposals would worsen the opioid problem.

“My sense is this is an all-hands-on-deck problem,” King told the group. “The big part of this is educating the public of the nature of the problem, the magnitude of the problem, and what works.”

King called the drug addiction crisis a “disaster that’s coming at us, in addition to what we are already seeing.” And he blasted proposed cuts in the House Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, saying they “would be devastating” and make it even harder to treat those struggling with drug addiction.

He also said any repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have a profound impact on rural hospitals and patients alike, especially people struggling with opioid addiction. He said in eight of Maine’s 16 counties – including Somerset County, of which Skowhegan is the county seat – the local hospital is the largest employer.

“It would be a disaster, frankly,” he said. “What we’re finding is that treatment can work, but it costs money, and right now there isn’t enough treatment access in Maine, so anything that shirks that is a bad idea. It’s no secret the opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises in the history of the state of Maine.”

King told the group of seven central Maine health care professionals that, 45 minutes into their meeting, four people on average had died in the United States from drug overdose during that time.

“We’re losing one person a day in the state of Maine,” he said. “Nationwide, we’re losing five people an hour to overdose deaths.”

Sherry Rogers, chief nursing officer at Redington-Fairview, brought the issue closer to home by noting that 20 percent of newborns at the hospital are “drug affected” in some way.

The House postponed a vote on the legislation, called the American Health Care Act, on Thursday. Republican leadership had made several changes aimed at pleasing both conservatives and moderates, but the concessions weren’t enough. Friday’s vote was canceled and the bill was withdrawn.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that 24 million fewer people would be insured by 2026 under the Republican bill, King noted.

King previously called the legislation “bad” and “shortsighted” because “it strips tens of thousands of Maine people of their health insurance, skyrockets costs for older, working-class folks – especially in northern and Down East Maine, and deals a blow to our fight against the opioid epidemic, which is taking the lives of our family, friends, and loved ones.” Instead, King said, Congress should commit to making meaningful improvements to the Affordable Care Act.

King noted that about 75,000 people in Maine are covered by the ACA, many of whom would lose their coverage under the replacement bill, especially people over the age of 50.

“Maine is the oldest state in the country. Why would we want to support something that practically targets seniors and increases their costs?” he said. “This proposed bill is absolutely unacceptable to the country, but particularly to Maine.”

The number of drug-related deaths in Maine hit a record high of 378 in 2016, up from 272 in 2015.