It was recently reported that Maine is one of the worst states in the nation, and overall worst in New England, for its increase in overdose deaths. According to federal data, Maine’s year-over-year increase in overdose deaths is 65% higher than the national average. A short drive south, Massachusetts continues to see their fatal overdose rates decline, while our state saw a 10.9% increase.

In 2016, Gov. Paul LePage was quoted saying this about Massachusetts:  “The heroin-fentanyl arrests are not white people. They’re Hispanic and they’re black and they’re from Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts … .”

The words and actions of Maine’s governor remind me of the late Henry Anslinger, our country’s first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, serving 32 years until his retirement in 1962. He launched the war on drugs, and famously stated that “the increase [in drug addiction] is practically 100 percent among Negro people.” Anslinger was openly upset that minorities were using chemicals to menace white people.

Gov. LePage also famously, and very publicly, expressed his personal disdain for out-of-state black men coming into his state to impregnate white girls and said: “They sell their heroin, they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

Anslinger’s drug policies have haunted our nation for decades. His views on drugs and addiction have long been disproven and much progress has been made, but men like LePage are stuck in the 1930’s era of reefer madness anti-marijuana campaigns and strong prosecution of drug users.

LePage is correct in saying that drugs flow into Maine from places like Lawrence, Massachusetts, but he is unable to take ownership of his own state’s poor resources for those addicted. Instead of pointing the finger to another state, we need to focus on the things we can control, such as executing effective policies in our state.

While LePage fought to keep the overdose reversal drug, naloxone, out of the hands of Mainers, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was expanding access. Baker also worked towards having insurance cover the services of recovery coaches, and most importantly, worked with hospitals to offer an immediate assessment and treatment for those with substance use disorders.

WE DESPERATELY NEED OWNERSHIP

Thankfully, three new laws moved forward last month, despite veto attempts by LePage. The first one funds the creation of a $6.6 million so-called “hub-and-spoke” initiative for treatment and recovery programs in Maine. The money in the legislation helps pay for medication-assisted recovery for those who are the most likely to lack access to treatment.

Lawmakers also overrode LePage’s veto to pass a $75,000 needle-exchange program. This harm-reduction strategy will help stop the spread of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV and also create new access points for entry to treatment programs. I’m grateful for this progress and hopeful that more will be done down the road.

LePage will soon depart the Blaine House. If we want to make substantial progress with the opioid crisis, it’s essential for us to make sure his replacement does not adopt his legacy of finger-pointing and blame.

Republican nominee Shawn Moody recently bailed on a Bangor Daily News forum aimed at finding solutions to Maine’s opioid crisis. Moody decided to attend a car show instead, sending his campaign manager – and daughter of the current governor – Lauren LePage, to stand in for him. The great Maya Angelou once said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Moody’s plan for combating the opioid crisis consists of stronger borders, longer jail time, and bringing back those old “just say no” commercials. This plan isn’t surprising when you listen to his WLOB radio interview in which he says about those addicted: “They don’t have the strength to say no.”

Jocko Willink, a well-known Navy SEAL with Maine ties, co-authored the book, “Extreme Ownership.” In the book, Willink wrote: “In any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

The answers to slowing the overdose death toll don’t lie in blaming other states, or men of other races. The only way we can hope to solve this issue is with extreme ownership from our governor. We have solutions and ideas to immediately curb the death toll, like harm-reduction efforts, but we need a leader who is willing to take action and execute a plan based on 21st-century science and research, not Henry Anslinger-era persecution.

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