Gov. Paul LePage is taking a critical view of the Legislature’s recently unveiled proposal to deal with the state’s drug crisis, sending a sharply worded letter to House Speaker Mark Eves that suggests his administration may be developing its own plan.

The governor mocked the comprehensiveness, detail and timing of the plan while accusing the Democratic leader of testing the “political wind” before responding to the drug crisis.

The letter is a response to a Dec. 10 letter from Eves to LePage, in which Eves highlighted inconsistencies in the governor’s public statements on heroin addiction. Eves noted that LePage made comments to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that the state needs to spend between $10 million and $15 million more on treatment to meet the demand produced by the epidemic.

However, Eves also pointed out that LePage spoke at a forum last week at the University of Southern Maine, and in that appearance he questioned the efficacy of heroin treatment.

“These are Maine citizens, our neighbors, and our children,” Eves wrote. “They deserve our compassion and support.”

The governor fired back Thursday by questioning the Legislature’s response to the problem. “It is not compassionate to wait until bodies hit the floor, then test which way the political wind is blowing before you decide to do what’s right,” LePage wrote.

He also criticized the Legislature’s proposal, a copy of which Eves provided with his Dec. 10 letter. LePage placed quotation marks around the words “comprehensive proposal” when referencing the Legislature’s plan, which he described as “nothing more than a few bullet points” with no funding source.

The exchange reflects the personal animosity between Eves and LePage, who blocked a move by the Good Will-Hinckley school in Fairfield to hire Eves as president. Eves has filed a lawsuit against the governor over his actions.

TREATMENT PROVIDER ACCOUNTABILITY

However, the letter also reinforces indications that the administration may be preparing its own plan to address treatment, prevention and education. In his letter, LePage makes specific mention of accountability among treatment providers.

“Your approach is to wait until our fellow Mainers are addicted, then throw more and more of the taxpayers’ money at treatment and recovery programs with no accountability over how efficient or effective these programs really are,” LePage wrote.

The governor’s comments echo statements made by Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew in an interview Wednesday with the Portland Press Herald. Mayhew outlined a number of initiatives that the agency has developed to reduce the over-prescribing of opioid painkillers, which studies show are a leading contributor to heroin addiction. She also discussed implementing quality controls and accountability measures within the state’s Medication Assisted Therapy program.

Mayhew said the state was evaluating contracts to ensure that state dollars are being used specifically for treatment. While the current spending can be matched against a provider’s budget, she said, “it has not allowed the kind of transparency … of individualized claims.”

“While administrative overhead obviously is part of the cost of delivering a service, we want to make sure that … we’re not paying too much for those embedded overhead costs and detracting from paying for access to treatment,” she said.

VARIOUS IDEAS FOR ATTACKING PROBLEM

Mayhew discussed a number of other initiatives Wednesday, but it’s unclear whether the administration will support only its own proposals, the Legislature’s proposal, or both. A spokeswoman for LePage did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Eves, in a brief response to LePage’s letter Thursday, said he wanted to avoid “personality politics” and focus on solving the drug problem. “If the governor has a plan,” Eves said, “he should share it.”

The Legislature’s $4.8 million plan is a response to the governor’s call for additional agents at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to disrupt the trafficking of illegal drugs. Legislative leaders, preferring a comprehensive approach, unveiled a proposal that includes funding for 10 additional agents as well as treatment, prevention and education initiatives.

The proposal is in addition to five bills aimed at the drug problem that will be considered when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

LePage moved quickly to expedite the process of hiring agents, signing a $781,000 financial order last week that will temporarily fund the positions through reserves for the Gambling Control Board. He also expressed hope that the Legislature “adequately supports education and prevention efforts in a meaningful way.”

Maine and many other states are battling a heroin epidemic that the federal government has linked to prescription opioids. In a letter Thursday to President Obama, Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, urged him to increase funding to tackle the addiction epidemic.

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. Many states have established task forces or passed laws to address the drug problem.

QUESTIONING VALUE OF TREATMENT

For the past year, LePage’s focus has been on law enforcement and disrupting the drug trade. At the forum at USM last week, he said 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, a drug that counteracts overdoses, saying it doesn’t “save lives, it extends lives” that are plagued by addiction.

LePage also questioned the efficacy of spending on addiction treatment.

“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.”

However, LePage joined with the five other New England governors Tuesday in a letter to congressional leaders, urging them to give medical professionals the ability to prescribe medication for opiate addiction.

Mayhew said LePage’s remarks on addiction have been misinterpreted.

“What he’s saying is that heroin is absolutely deadly. It is immediately addictive and absolutely deadly,” she said. “We’re still seeing too many overdoses, even if they have the ability to get into treatment. We have to focus on prevention.”

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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