In a recent article in the Portland Press Herald, Gov. LePage – yet again – dismisses the rising opioid crisis in Maine as a financial burden. LePage asks, “When is it enough money to solve this problem?” when, perhaps, more action and revised legislation are what are missing.

Gov. LePage associates the alarmingly high levels of opioid use in Maine with criminality, instead of a public health crisis. LePage has supported a 200-bed treatment facility at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, while he has simultaneously resisted increasing access to Narcan, a drug that can block the effects of opioids and reverse an overdose. LePage’s primary focus has been on strengthening law enforcement to penalize traffickers. Instead, LePage could be focusing on solutions such as expanding access to Medicaid to make treatment more widely available.

It seems ill advised for LePage to be placing traffickers in the limelight rather than those suffering from substance use, considering that opioid use in Maine is at a record high. Specifically, in 2016, the rising use of opioids contributed to an increase of nearly 40 percent in overdose fatalities – drug overdoses caused the deaths of 376 Mainers last year.

Further, last month LePage submitted a bill that articulates prenatal drug or alcohol use as cause for termination of parental rights. The governor defended the bill as an effort to get pregnant women into treatment programs, but the bill (which has since been defeated in the Legislature) had many potential negative consequences. For instance, it is likely that pregnant women seeking treatment would have been driven away by these measures for fear of losing the right to care for their unborn children.

In order to address the ever-growing opioid problem in Maine, we must focus more on how to help those affected rather than just the cost of doing so.

Meghan Flynn