The clock is ticking: The Legislature has until Dec. 10 to give Gov. Paul LePage all of the law enforcement resources that he says he needs to fight the heroin epidemic. If he doesn’t get them, he says, he’ll call up the National Guard.

The governor says he wants action. He wants more manpower for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and he wants legislative leaders to call a special session to approve the expenditure.

“They can give me a time, a time specific when they are going to do something,” he said. “But they just want to meet and talk. I am done talking. I am done meeting … (P)eople are dying every single day.”

The governor is right that there is a crisis: There were 105 overdoses in the first half of this year, including 37 attributed to heroin, which, according to law enforcement, is flooding into the state at levels veteran police officers have never seen.

But while LePage has defined the right problem, there are still questions about his approach.

What would the Guard members do? The Maine unit is an engineering battalion, more accustomed to building bridges and schools than it would be conducting undercover drug investigations. The governor has not said how he would deploy a uniformed, military force in the fight against drugs.

And what is he waiting for? Back in June, the Legislature passed, over his veto, a budget that called for hiring four MDEA agents instead of the 10 that he had requested. Those positions have not been filled. Neither have the additional prosecutors and judge positions that lawmakers funded in the current budget.

Wouldn’t those people be helpful now?

And if LePage believes that calling out the Guard would save lives, why hasn’t he done it? The circumstances regarding drug use have been well known all year. What is so special about the date of Dec. 10?

There is none. The governor appears to be using the deadline for leverage to get the Legislature to do something that it wouldn’t otherwise do. That might be good politics, but it is not doing anything to improve a public health crisis that is getting worse on his watch.

On Friday, House Speaker Mark Eves predicted that we are not going to see the Guard or a special session of the Legislature this year. But he did say that lawmakers are now working on a comprehensive plan that includes expanded drug treatment options and education as well as beefing up law enforcement, and they will be ready to move it forward as soon as the Legislature reconvenes for the year.

That might not be as dramatic as calling out the National Guard, but it sounds like the right way to address this complicated problem.


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