Gov. LePage – the man in charge of the state’s public health – has once again showed off how little he understands about the opioid crisis that is killing Mainers at a rate of more than one a day.

On his regular Tuesday morning talk-radio call-in to WVOM in Bangor, the governor had a lot to say in a little time, and all of it was wrong. Some highlights:

Drug treatment doesn’t work: “With heroin, it’s a 90/10 split. Ninety percent will die and 10 percent will survive. And that’s where we’re at right now.”

Addicts don’t want treatment: “You can’t force them into rehab. It’s not like you can put people in prison. We can’t do that, they either come or they don’t get in.”

 Treatment is free to anyone who wants it: “Drug addiction and rehabbing has nothing to do with insurance. That is a freebie that the state gives.”

The state is adequately funding treatment in Maine. “We spend $80 million a year of General Fund money, now listen to me, $80 million a year on drug rehab.”

If the human cost wasn’t so horrible, we could have a good laugh at the how little he gets right about this crisis. But people are dying, so it’s no laughing matter.

For the record: Drug treatment does work. “Facing Addiction in America,” the surgeon general’s 2016 report, found that “well-supported scientific evidence shows that substance use disorders can be effectively treated, with recurrence rates no higher than those for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. With comprehensive continuing care, recovery is now an achievable outcome.”

But only one out of 10 affected people gets treatment, not because being a heroin addict is so much fun that they don’t want give it up, but because of factors such as long wait lists and cost.

Treatment is not “a freebie the state gives.” It’s expensive, and people who don’t have private insurance or coverage under Medicaid will probably have to pay out of their own pocket if they don’t get lucky with a grant-funded program.

And that $80 million a year that the governor says we spend from the General Fund on drug rehab? Don’t look for it in the budget, because it’s not there. The state share for providing the two most common treatment drugs, methadone and suboxone, wouldn’t add up to one-tenth of LePage’s figure.

That particular line item exists only between the governor’s ears and slips out of his mouth now and then with great conviction. Even if he’s counting the total cost of a new treatment facility near the prison in Windham – not really an every-year expense – his number makes no sense.

Here’s the real problem: Gov. LePage came into office thinking he knew more about drug addiction than the experts, and he has made it his job to push through public policy that sounds good on talk radio but has made things worse.

In his first budget he insisted on a lifetime two-year cap on Medicaid reimbursement for methadone treatment, although 40 years of research has shown the drug to be effective at curbing drug abuse and reducing drug-related crime and the spread of infectious diseases.

Then LePage took a stand against the distribution of naloxone, the overdose antidote drug, which he claimed did not save lives: “It merely extends them.”

And LePage has kicked non-disabled adults off Medicaid, while continuing to veto expanding federally funded Medicaid, cutting off treatment options just as the overdose deaths began to climb.

Keep in mind, this is a governor who flew into action for a made-up emergency in 2014, mobilizing the police and courts to forcefully quarantine a nurse who had been exposed to the Ebola virus. At the time he claimed that he had “robust authority to address threats to public health.”

Ebola, of course, resulted in zero fatalities in Maine, causing not even a significant sniffle. But since LePage issued that statement in October 2014, more than 650 Mainers have died of drug overdoses – 378 last year alone.

When LePage was gently reminded by his radio interviewer that there aren’t enough drug treatment services available, he pushed back hard.

“Oh, so you’re saying that we have to put more money into it?” he said as if he’d caught her hiding her real agenda. “So when is it enough money to solve this problem? If somebody could tell me that, then we could have that debate.”

Yes, Governor, let’s have that debate, but instead of counting the dollars that you say you have spent, maybe we should start by counting the bodies that have been buried since you took over.

And then you could ask those families if they think that you’ve done enough.

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Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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