AUGUSTA — Legislative leaders on Wednesday unveiled a $4.8 million proposal to fight the state’s drug crisis that includes more agents to crack down on dealers and more treatment for people already addicted.

The plan, backed by three of the four legislative leadership teams, contains $2.4 million for law enforcement, including 10 new agents for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to conduct drug investigations and disrupt the flow of heroin into the state. The plan also would allocate $2.4 million for treatment and recovery programs, including $1 million for a new 10-bed detox unit, $600,000 to increase access to residential treatment for the uninsured and $200,000 for outpatient services. Another $600,000 is devoted to doubling the number of recovery centers throughout the state.

The proposal also would expand a program being used by the Scarborough Police Department that invites people who possess drugs or drug paraphernalia to turn them in to police and get help without facing arrest.

“The proposal that we have today isn’t enough, but it’s a start and one that addresses this problem in a comprehensive way,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “We’ve agreed that this issue is too important to allow politics to get in the way and that we can’t allow personality conflicts to deter us.”

The proposal is in addition to five bills that will be considered next session. Those proposals include providing additional treatment services for addicts, increasing drug education in public schools, increasing fines for interstate drug trafficking convictions, increasing state reimbursement rates to treatment centers, and a pilot program designed to divert those arrested for drug possession into treatment programs.



Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport, said the proposal addressed the LePage administration’s “real and compelling case” to beef up the MDEA.

“This agreement will go a long ways toward cutting the supply side of this drug crisis. … It’s also a down payment on reducing the demand side of this crisis, allocating equal portions to law enforcement and treatment.”

The additional MDEA agents have been a priority for Gov. Paul LePage, while lawmakers have sought to bolster treatment programs stressed by a surge in the number of heroin users seeking treatment. That number has more than tripled, from 1,115 in 2010 to 3,463 in 2014, according to state data.

LePage released a letter before Wednesday’s announcement and said he had authorized the funds to begin hiring the 10 additional agents. According to the financial order released by the administration Wednesday, the $781,000 needed to temporarily fund the positions will be drawn from reserves for the Gambling Control Board.

“Since you have assured me the Legislature will fund these 10 agents in an expedited manner in January, I am authorizing additional funds by way of financial order,” LePage wrote to Thibodeau. “As you know, the hiring and training process can take months. We need these agents to hit the streets as soon as possible.”

The $2.4 million in the legislative proposal for law enforcement includes money for agents, a statewide coordinator to connect law enforcement and treatment providers, and funding for five police departments to implement the Operation Hope program adopted by Scarborough police.


LePage also wrote in the letter that he hopes the Legislature “adequately supports education and prevention efforts in a meaningful way.”

The legislative focus is consistent with other states that are battling a heroin epidemic that the federal government has linked to prescription opioids.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 45 states have reported public health, safety and economic damage from the increase in heroin use. More than a dozen states have established task forces to address the problem, while state legislatures have passed an assortment of laws that include increased penalties for drug trafficking, more treatment and prevention funds, and expanded access to naloxone, or Narcan, a drug used to revive people who overdose.


Maine has followed the legislative trend, but both LePage and state lawmakers say more must be done to tackle the problem. The governor has focused primarily on law enforcement, drawing criticism that he is neglecting treatment and prevention. LePage told an audience in Portland on Tuesday that he isn’t necessarily opposed to treatment, but he questioned its effectiveness among addicts unwilling to get help. He also had strong words for the Legislature’s move to expand access to Narcan, suggesting that administering the drug doesn’t “save lives, it extends lives” of addiction.

“You can go up to $150 million (in treatment) and you’re not going to solve the problem,” he said. “I think that’s a disproportionate share of money spent on trying to treat, and the success rate is very low.”


The governor’s view of treatment success has been challenged by state lawmakers who argue that the drug epidemic requires a comprehensive strategy and financial commitment from the state.

Police Officer John Gill, who spearheads the Operation Hope program in Scarborough, said simply incarcerating addicts will do little to combat the crisis. “People seeking assistance from addiction deserve help, not handcuffs,” he said.


Portland resident Julie Lawson, who is in recovery for addiction, said it’s crucial that the state add treatment centers so those with addiction can get help close to home. Lawson said she received help from Mercy’s drug treatment center before it closed earlier this year.

She said that although it’s easy to dismiss those needing help, recovery is a long, difficult process.

“It’s not just picking up with the rest of your life,” she said. “People with substance abuse disorder need to learn how to live their whole life over again. I can’t express enough how substances take over our lives. It’s not that we’re bad people. We’re just controlled by a substance and we make bad decisions.”


She added, “These are people’s lives we’re talking about. We’re not junkies, we’re not addicts. We’re people with substance abuse disorder, and I just really hope everybody can come together to bring more (treatment facilities) here.”

Republican House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, of Newport, hasn’t endorsed the plan and said he wasn’t included in its drafting.

Eves said he hoped the plan will attract Fredette’s support.

“I hope people don’t look for the conflict in this,” Eves said. “I really think that this is too important to allow, whether it’s a media story or personalities, to get in the way. We’re going to get there. I think everybody recognizes the seriousness of this.”

The proposal released Wednesday will be vetted by legislative committees in the coming weeks before being voted on by the Legislature when lawmakers reconvene for the second regular session in January.

Lawmakers also will consider a bill next year that would restore MaineCare reimbursement rates for methadone providers to 2010 levels. The bill was introduced by Waterboro Republican David Woodsome, whose district recently saw the shuttering of a treatment facility in Sanford.

“Drug addiction has created a public health and safety catastrophe that is complex and multifaceted,” Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a written statement. “So our response must be equally robust. We have to use every tool at our disposal to fight this battle on multiple fronts. This package, along with our existing efforts, will help Mainers trying to kick addiction as well as law enforcement trying to clean up our streets.”


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