Maine’s Paul LePage was one of only seven U.S. governors who did not sign the National Governor’s Association’s Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction and his spokesman Thursday dismissed the pledge as a “feel-good measure.”

Peter Steele, communications director for the Republican governor, said in an email that LePage rejected the compact in part because it failed to include a law enforcement component and because it encouraged expanding access to naloxone, something the governor opposes.

“Without a balanced approach to fighting the drug pandemic …. the compact is simply a feel-good measure being promoted by politicians in an election year,” Steele wrote.

On Wednesday, the NGA announced the compact and said the current drug crisis is likely to be a major topic of discussion at its summer meeting next week in Iowa. The compact calls on the governors to stop the inappropriate prescribing of painkillers – something Maine already has been working on – and to raise awareness about the problem and encourage treatment and recovery for those already addicted.

Among 50 governors, all but seven signed, and the signees were about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Among the seven states that did not sign – Maine, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, Nevada and Texas – six were Republicans.

Steele said LePage, who is not a member of the NGA, had several reasons for not signing, the biggest of which appeared to be a lack of focus on the law enforcement side. LePage has repeatedly called for beefing up law enforcement as a way to combat the drug crisis that last year resulted in 272 overdose deaths, the highest on record. Nearly all of those deaths were cause by heroin or synthetic opiates. Nationally, 78 people are dying every day from the drug crisis.


“The LePage Administration proposed adding a bullet point about law enforcement in the compact, but NGA rejected it,” Steele said, adding that the governor believes states should do more to coordinate law enforcement efforts. “The governor has said repeatedly that a three-pronged approach is needed to combat the drug pandemic facing our states: education, treatment and law enforcement. The compact focuses almost solely on treatment.”

The compact presented by the NGA presents the drug crisis more as a public health crisis, not a criminal problem, and its solutions are rooted in treatment. Similarly, a bipartisan bill that passed through the U.S. Senate on Wednesday – a bill co-sponsored by Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine – was focused more on treatment. Many providers in Maine have bemoaned the lack of treatment options, from too few detox and in-patient beds to a gap in the number of doctors willing to provide suboxone, which many clinicians say is the best way to treat opiate addiction.

Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, the top Democrat on the state’s Health and Human Services Committee, said LePage “belittles,” the effort to combat the drug crisis.

“Instead of getting serious about this epidemic, Governor LePage, aided by Commissioner Mary Mayhew, continues to scorn the lifesaving potential of the overdose-reversal medication naloxone, makes it harder to access medication-assisted treatment, threatens to shut down methadone clinics and stands in the way of treatment options that the Legislature has approved and funded,” Gattine said in a statement. “He’s got to understand that the lives of real Mainers are hanging in the balance. This is no way to lead.”

Steele said the governor was not on board with language in the compact that encouraging the use of naloxone, also called Narcan, which reverses the effects of an opiate overdose. LePage has been critical of Narcan and has opposed expanding its availability. Some of his comments about Narcan have been criticized because he has seem to suggest that Narcan enables users. The bill passed by Congress this week would increase access.

Steele said the governor also would have liked to see more about drug-prevention education in schools.


A Portland Press Herald poll conducted last month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 60 percent of Mainers knew someone who had either used heroin or abused prescription painkillers within the last five years. However, when asked to identify the primary cause of Maine’s opiate crisis, poll respondents varied widely in their answer: About 25 percent said over-prescribing of prescription painkillers was the cause; 21 percent blamed drug dealers; 18 percent said the increase in the disease of addiction, and 13 percent said the cause was moral failing.

When those results were filtered by party affiliation, things change considerably.

Among Republican respondents, 30 percent said drug dealers were the biggest cause of heroin use, but only 14 percent of Democrats felt that way. Twenty-one percent of Republicans saw moral failing as a major cause, compared with 5 percent of Democrats. Over-prescribing of drugs was cited by 30 percent of Democrats, but only 17 percent of Republicans.


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