Last week, the Maine Legislature took the first step in solving Maine’s drug crisis. But it would be a grave mistake for us to just move along as though this problem were solved.

Of course, the big question is: “What do we do now?”

I believe a much larger, more comprehensive and multifaceted approach is still sorely needed if we hope to truly address this problem. While our focus has been on stopping drug traffickers and treating addiction, we cannot forget about the kids.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overall drug use among students between eighth and 12th grade is down slightly, which is mildly encouraging.

However, the number of those students using marijuana remained the same, and most high school seniors don’t think occasional marijuana smoking is harmful. Only 36 percent of the students polled said that regular use of marijuana is harmful, which is down from 52 percent in 2009.

This is not a school problem, but a community problem. Community-driven solutions to address abuse and education will be key to moving forward.

Often times in this discussion we have two camps. One camp says cut off the supply of these horrific drugs hitting Maine streets. The other camp says if we can heal all the drug abusers from their addiction, no one would buy drugs, so we won’t have people selling them in Maine.

It’s all about supply and demand. We need to address both supply and demand. Both camps are correct, but it’s not one or the other. It’s both.

The Legislature just approved funding for 10 additional agents to join the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and their ongoing fight to cut off the supply of heroin flooding into the state. We need to consider whether 10 is enough.

In the 1990s when Maine faced an influx of cocaine into the state, there were 68 agents manning the streets. Currently, we have 39 agents trying to combat the heroin and methamphetamine that floods our state every day.

With any luck, the agents we just funded will be ready to join the fight in another six months. Adding more agents is not an attempt to arrest our way out of the problem as some would suggest, but we need to embrace the reality of the current situation. Our men and women in law enforcement who are on the front lines of this fight are outmanned.

According to the Department of Public Safety, the Maine State Police staff is down 36 officers. Eighty percent of the state police’s time and resources now are going to the rise in drug-related crimes.

Meanwhile, a record 51 meth labs have been discovered in Maine this past year alone. Each one of these labs can only be dismantled by agents who are trained in Quantico, Virginia. Each time a new meth lab is uncovered, agents are being pulled from their duties of hunting down drug traffickers to clean it up.

We need to have the discussion with top law enforcement officials and make sure they have everything they need to win this fight.

Drug treatment is also a major part of the solution and perhaps the most complex. There are many different schools of thought when it comes to treating addiction.

Those who support medication-assisted treatment are lobbying for more funding for methadone and Suboxone. We also hear from those who support peer support as a viable treatment method. Some people believe we need more charity beds, so uninsured and low-income Mainers can find readily available treatment.

With the exception of expanding Medicaid, nothing can be deemed off the table, and these ideas and others must be fully vetted as we decide the most effective way for us to proceed.

We are already spending close to $80 million on drug treatment in Maine. We need to figure out where that money is being spent. If we can better utilize our existing resources we need to be doing it.

We have a lot of work to do and this will more than likely take a while but as long as we are actually willing to sit down and listen to everyone’s ideas I have all the confidence in the world we can find a solution that works for everyone.

Rep. Ellie Espling, of New Gloucester, represents House District 65 and serves as the assistant House Republican leader.


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