AUGUSTA — Maine’s top law enforcement and emergency medical officials announced Wednesday that a special state police unit and three working groups will be created to address the state’s drug epidemic.

Participants of a summit convened by Republican Gov. Paul LePage made the announcement at a news conference after the closeddoor meeting at the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The governor convened the summit amid a rising number of overdose deaths across the state, which law enforcement officials are blaming on cheap heroin and fentanyl.

The special unit at the state police intelligence center will focus on drugs and the three working groups will concentrate on law enforcement, education and prevention, and drug treatment.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty, who leads federal prosecutions in Maine, volunteered to establish the working groups.

“One thing that I did not want to happen is to leave here today with no particular plan,” Delahanty said. “I think we have the beginning of one and there’s good support for it.”

Democratic legislative leaders beforehand criticized the summit for focusing too much on law enforcement and too little on treatment and education.

“We are an addicted society. It’s a distinction that some are legal and some are illegal, but we’ve grown up in an environment where there is a pill for everything,” said Democratic Rep. Mark Dion, a former sheriff.

Summit participants agreed afterward that all three areas must be addressed.

Last year, 208 people died in Maine from drug overdoses, an all-time record, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. In the first six months of this year, the state counted 105 overdose deaths; heroin was believed to be responsible for 37 of them, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said Wednesday the special unit will include participation from emergency services providers for the first time to quickly identify drug trends and hot spots.

“We’re going to be working with EMS providers in emergency rooms throughout the state so that all of us, law enforcement and the medical side, can receive drug information on a timely basis,” he said.

The state also plans to commit two more Maine National Guard personnel to the existing four-member staff who analyze data at the intelligence clearinghouse, Morris said.

LePage, who attended the summit, has said he’d consider calling in the National Guard to fight the drug problem, and Morris didn’t close the door on greater National Guard involvement. But Morris said National Guard personnel will not participate in law enforcement “at this time.”

LePage didn’t attend the news conference because he wanted to avoid politicizing the issue, his spokeswoman said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: