The Maine Legislature spoke with one voice last week when it unanimously passed legislation providing resources to law enforcement, community leaders and treatment providers desperate to help save the lives of Mainers who are addicted to drugs.

As leaders in the treatment and recovery fields, we are extremely thankful that Maine lawmakers, led by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, put aside political differences to pass a bill that will help stem the flow of drugs into our state and invest in vital long-term recovery efforts to get Mainers healthy and back on their feet.

Addiction is a devastating, chronic disease, and it’s time we treated it as such. This bill and its passage reflect this reality and the Legislature’s commitment to common-sense solutions.

And while we echo the voices calling for more to be done, especially in terms of additional resources for treatment and recovery and support for the uninsured, it’s essential that we recognize the critical importance of the anti-drug bill that was just passed.

It provides an additional $3.7 million to strengthen law enforcement, increase access to affordable treatment and recovery services for the uninsured, support innovative police and jail initiatives, and fund prevention education efforts and peer recovery centers in underserved areas of our state.

The Portland Community Recovery Center is a safe haven for people facing addiction and for our allies. Open seven days a week, the center provides largely volunteer-driven peer recovery support, groups and activities. It saw 28,000 visits in 2014, a figure that rose by an estimated 6,000 in 2015.

South Portland-based Day One, Maine’s leading agency addressing youth substance abuse for individuals, groups, families, schools and communities throughout Maine, served 1,000 youths statewide last year.

Still, the need continues to grow. Every day, we are forced to turn people away from treatment that they both want and need. Options are extremely limited for struggling Mainers across the state and, in particular, for uninsured residents. A lack of health insurance coverage should not be the deterrent to getting clean and starting a new life.

While expanding Medicaid to increase access to coverage for the uninsured would be the most efficient and effective way for Mainers to get the care they need, in the meantime, this bill provides vital opportunities for outpatient and residential treatment services.

The bill also funds a new 10-bed drug detoxification center, which is profoundly needed. This facility will serve dozens of people a month from across the northern and eastern region of Maine, providing them with a safe place to withdraw, as well as connecting them to the ongoing supports and services that will help them stay on the path to recovery.

While things seem grim – with five Mainers per week dying from this devastating disease – we want to make clear that recovery is possible. We see successes every day.

During the over 10 hours of overwhelmingly supportive testimony on the recently passed bill, lawmakers heard some of these success stories from young people and their parents, grateful for the support they received and passionate about ensuring that help is there for their neighbors and loved ones facing addiction, overdose and relapse.

As Julie Lawson, a parent and young person in recovery, said, “This bill will help save lives like mine. It provides critical funds for treatment to help people get back on their feet. If it wasn’t for treatment, I wouldn’t still be here for my son. This bill will give people a second chance, and I’m so thankful to see it pass.”

The causes of addiction are complex and multi-faceted. So are the solutions. But we cannot shy away from this challenge. The short- and long-term consequences are too dire and the solutions are within reach.

Maine is only as healthy as our families. We should honor and build upon the achievement of this bill’s passage, which opens the door for a more effective treatment infrastructure across the state.

We must support Mainers like Julie. It is the right thing to do. It is the cost-effective thing to do. It is the only thing to do.

L.D. 1537 took a substantial step in the right direction, and we’re proud to join the medical community in support as it moves toward implementation.

— Special to the Press Herald

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