In 2014, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin took the extraordinary step of devoting his entire State of the State address to the heroin crisis. He acknowledged the powerful hold opiates have on a person and the denial of the problem they face. He remarked: “The window of opportunity to move folks from denial to recovery is when they are most in crisis – when the blue lights are flashing and the handcuffs are on.”

Many say we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. But it is equally true that we cannot solve the problem without arrests. Law enforcement and the courts want to be part of the solution by getting people into treatment through pretrial diversion, including drug court and deferred disposition.

In drug court or with a deferred disposition, a person can enter a provisional guilty plea and after completing a course of treatment (allowing for occasional relapses) have the charges dropped to a misdemeanor or even dismissed. This will not be possible if there is no incentive to get a significantly reduced sentence in exchange for successful completion of a treatment program.

The Maine Courts reported that in 2015 there were nearly 1,800 convictions involving opiates, cocaine or methamphetamine, and just 194 of those were felony (Class C) possession convictions.

Prosecutors pursue felonies only when appropriate and always with an eye to moving a person to sobriety and health, frequently reducing the severity of the charges as a reward for successful treatment. Reinstating felony charges, as existed until recently, for possession of heroin provides a critical incentive to divert people to treatment rather than jail.

With five people each week dying of overdoses, now is not the time to minimize the dangerousness of heroin or remove one of the important tools we have in this fight.

Janet T. Mills

Attorney General


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