Gov. Paul LePage and his Republican allies in the House are turning a public health emergency into a political football — trying to kill a bipartisan plan to combat opioid addiction before its supporters can even start their work. And the people who need help the most are the people who stand to lose unless lawmakers commit to a multi-pronged effort to combat this public health crisis.

At issue is a $4.9 million proposal that lawmakers began reviewing Tuesday. Endorsed by both parties in the Maine Senate as well as by House Democrats, the plan calls for spending $2.5 million or more on treatment and recovery programs and $2.4 million on hiring more state agents to crack down on dealers, a top priority of Gov. LePage.

The proposal, though, has faced vocal opposition from House Republicans and the LePage administration. The criticism culminated Tuesday in Gov. LePage’s declaration to a radio interviewer that he intends to veto the plan, followed by Public Safety Commissioner John Morris’ announcement to legislators that he wouldn’t need the drug agent funding provided in the bill because the cost would be covered by surpluses elsewhere in the state budget.

It’s hard not to see a link between the statements by the governor and by his public safety chief. If the state can pay for extra drug agents even if the anti-drug bill fails, then LePage can write off the entire proposal without jeopardizing enforcement appropriations and thus looking “soft on crime.”

We don’t dispute that Maine is in need of more enforcement agents. But law enforcement officials’ statements to legislators Tuesday attest to the fact that Maine is also lacking treatment resources. “All of us in law enforcement are beating our heads against the wall looking for treatment options. We haven’t found it,” Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck told legislators. And consider these grim statistics, released last week: Maine saw 71 heroin overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2015, compared with 57 in all of 2014.

While opponents of the anti-addiction plan say their skepticism is rooted in the lack of accountability for treatment spending, there’s nothing to stop the Maine Department of Health and Human Services from expanding access to the programs while, at the same time, putting in place measures that would help the state evaluate the effectiveness of the services.

The proposal before the Legislature isn’t perfect. We’ve expressed our opinion that the plan is remiss in not including additional funds for methadone and Suboxone, the most effective medications for opiate addiction.

But it’s a good start, and legislators shouldn’t abandon efforts to make treatment more available to addicted Mainers in favor of political game-playing that advances the interests only of a very few.

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