There is little disagreement on the severity of the heroin problem gripping Maine and much of the rest of the United States. However, the response remains slow, fractured and underwhelming, and the size of the epidemic continues to dwarf the resources being spent to end it.

So it’s disappointing to learn that some of the initiatives able to pass in the divided Legislature have seemingly been left to collect dust by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. At least three programs, including two approved and funded a year ago, have not yet been put in place, with no explanation from the department.

With drug overdose deaths at an all-time high, Mainers deserve better answers, and faster movement.

Lying in limbo are a detoxification facility planned for eastern or northern Maine, passed as part of an emergency drug bill in January, as well as an eight-bed treatment facility for women and a new drug court program, both approved a year ago.

A DHHS spokeswoman gave no reason for the delay, and said requests for proposals for the drug court program and the detox facility would be issued soon.

A RFP issued last year for the women’s treatment facility, a particularly urgent need, drew two applicants, neither of which DHHS found suitable. The department turned down one applicant, Scarborough-based Crossroads, apparently because its bid was too high, a claim that was met with confusion by Crossroads’ CEO, given the organization’s experience with residential care and its costs.

That’s not the only disconnect between the department and treatment providers, many of whom say they are confused over what the LePage administration, which has questioned the effectiveness of drug treatment programs, wants from them as they help address the unprecedented number of Mainers seeking help for addiction.

And this is not the first time that such a disconnect has surfaced.

Last year, LePage used a radio address to say that state funds earmarked for treatment were going unspent as a way to counter claims that he was not adequately addressing the heroin crisis. Later, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said that providers were telling the department treatment needs were being met.

Both statements were met with disbelief by providers, who across the state were struggling to find the resources to help people seeking treatment, the number of which more than tripled between 2010 and 2014.

If the money was there, why wasn’t the department doing more to get it to providers? And why couldn’t the administration see what dire straits the providers, and their patients, were in?

Those questions were never adequately answered.

And now we can add another: Why, at a time when addiction is working around the clock to kill Mainers, is the department so slow in implementing programs that might save lives?


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