Maine had the second largest increase in opioid deaths in the United States from 2014 to 2015 (behind DC) and deaths soared in 2016 by nearly 40 percent to claim a record 378 people. This crisis is killing more than one Mainer per day, crushing families and communities, stretching our medical and law enforcement systems, and costing our communities, state, and economy dearly.
Change and new leadership are desperately needed. I am working closely with leaders in the public and mental health communities to develop a comprehensive plan. Here are some ways I believe we need to lead:
- Declare an emergency. Arizona and Florida have both declared the opioid crisis an emergency and Maine should do the same. These numbers and the lives ruined are staggering. It is time to act.
- Stop trying to arrest our way out of a public health crisis. We need to help people battling addiction and get them the treatment they need. I applaud the work of the Scarborough Police Department and their “Operation Hope” program that places those struggling with opioid addiction into treatment programs, usually out of state. We need a governor and statewide leadership to address this challenge in every community.
- Join the National Governor’s Association Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction. In July 2016, 46 of the nation’s governors signed the NGA Compact – but Maine’s Governor did not. Forty-six other governors agree on improving access to Narcan and medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and to increasing spending on addiction recovery programs. We need leaders – in the Blaine House and at the Department of Health and Human Services – who will get with the program and act.