Our state is on a tragic path. Preliminary data recently released by the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicated an over 30 percent increase in preventable drug overdoses in Maine. We are continuing to lose over 12 of our friends, relatives and neighbors each week to this devastating epidemic. It has become increasingly clear that we can no longer wait to take evidence-based actions to charter a new course.

A mural at the REST Center in Lewiston displays the names of members of the community who have died from overdoses. Gov. Mills’ amended version of the Good Samaritan expansion bill would protect from prosecution only “those who render aid” at the scene of an overdose. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

When Gov. Mills signed L.D. 329, the original Good Samaritan law, into effect three years ago, it was with a recognition that every life is sacred and worth saving, including the lives of people who use drugs. It did this​​ by preventing someone from being arrested or prosecuted for certain violations if those violations are discovered because someone is overdosing or seeking medical attention for someone who is.

In her statement in support of the Good Samaritan law, issued May 13, 2019, Gov. Mills wrote, “As Maine continues to grapple with the opioid epidemic, arresting and prosecuting someone at their most desperate moment when their friend or family member is experiencing a medical emergency will not solve the problem. In fact, it discourages people from calling for help.”

The signing of this legislation marked what many believed was a pivotal moment: the suggestion that Maine laws regarding substance use disorder would finally prioritize saving lives. This was a critical step forward, but the path we’re on today requires great leaps.

L.D. 1862, introduced by Sen. Chloe Maxmin, seeks to make those very leaps by strengthening the Good Samaritan law to ensure individuals feel empowered to call 911 when witnessing an overdose, not frightened to take action because of a looming threat of criminal penalties. It would widen the circle of those shielded from prosecution to include everyone at the scene of an overdose, excluding protections from prosecution for violent crimes.

It seemed a given, then, that the administration would support this common-sense expansion of the Good Samaritan law when it became clear that the law as it stood was not strong enough to have its intended life-saving effect. Instead of supporting the legislation as proposed, however, the Mills administration has offered its own anemic, amended version, extending protection only to the vaguely defined group of “those who render aid.”


Is there any way to understand the administration’s response other than an attempt to substitute form over substance? The legislation as Sen. Maxmin introduced it would save lives. The legislation as amended only hopes that we will think it does.

Bills that address addiction compassionately can feel hard for some people to support. Most of us know and love people who live with, or died of, substance use disorder, and we each carry our complicated feelings about those relationships with us every day. For some, feelings of helplessness may translate into a sense that people with substance use disorder don’t deserve help. Feelings of anger may translate into judgment that leaves no room for compassionate legislative reform. These emotional responses are part of being fully human – ours to hold or release as we need and are able.

But our legal system should embody the best of who we can be. The full expansion of the Good Samaritan law as proposed is rooted in the best of us – our recognition of the sacredness of every life and the love that lies beneath so much of our grief and anger. The Mills administration’s proposal implies that same recognition without actually embodying it. It sacrifices true, life-saving legislation on the altar of political show.

We need our loved ones to survive. Which means we need to do better.

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