Lost amid the Gov. Paul LePage’s racist and expletive-filled tirades last week was his statement that people struggling with opiate addiction are a lost cause. It is not the first time the governor has made that point, but following a report in the Maine Sunday Telegram, it’s clear that it has gone beyond words and into action.

Last year, amid a worsening crisis, Maine reduced spending on drug treatment and prevention, and as a result more people than necessary are struggling to find help for their addiction. The governor may say that his anger is aimed solely at traffickers, but his policies and priorities say otherwise.

According to the Maine Sunday Telegram, state spending on treatment and prevention fell 6.6 percent from fiscal year 2014 to 2015. That comes after spending dropped from 2010 to 2014, as the epidemic built steam, and as the state prioritized its shrinking spending toward prevention, at the expense of the state’s already weak treatment infrastructure.

With so many people sick and seeking help, that is simply unconscionable.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of Department of Health and Human Services who is often mentioned as LePage’s successor, said programs should not be judged on their cost, but on their effectiveness.


Should we look at fatal overdoses, then, with a record 272 last year, and another 189 through June 30?

Or how about the growing waitlists at Maine’s underpaid methadone clinics, or the treatment providers who have been pleading for more resources since the opiate epidemic began taking hold?

For years now, LePage and Mayhew have defended this approach by stating the need to use “best practices” and “evidence-based” programs to fight the drug crisis.

But there’s no indication what those programs are, when they’ll be in place or whose “evidence” was used to justify them. The few they have mentioned — a pilot program using the medication Vivitrol, treatment beds to be built at Maine Correctional Center — are limited in scope and years off.

And the approach most supported by actual facts? Well, LePage doesn’t think medication-assisted treatment with methadone works — despite all the evidence to the contrary.

So instead of receiving treatment that is proven to work, Mainers are relegated to waitlists, giving their illness that much more time to consume them. It’s no wonder more people are ending up in the emergency room, in jail, or dead.

Mayhew told the Telegram that it is the Legislature that decides spending. But it is LePage who has stood in the way of MaineCare expansion, which would allow more people to get treatment. It is LePage who has no appettite for otherwise providing more support for methadone — in fact, DHHS wants to put further burdens on providers.

And it’s LePage who has put the emphasis on prevention and law enforcement over treatment.

To the last point, the governor offered some insight last week. Speaking to reporters on Friday, before he called people of color “the enemy” while trying to make a simplistic point about the drug trade, LePage said a doctor told him the only way to beat the drug epidemic was to focus on prevention and wait until “after this generation dies.”

That’s not the way most Mainers respond when they have a father, mother, sister, brother or friend fall into the sway of addiction. But under the LePage administration, it has become state policy.

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