Along with guns and flashlights, doses of the overdose-reversal medication Narcan recently became standard equipment for Portland patrol officers. The greater availability of the medication represents a step forward for efforts to curb the death toll from Maine’s drug epidemic — but it’s also an acknowledgment of our failure as a society to prevent and treat addiction.

Law enforcement officers in Maine have been allowed to carry and use Narcan since 2014, when the Legislature passed an emergency measure expanding access to the medication. Uniformed officers in Kennebec County, Bangor, Westbrook and Skowhegan all have the antidote on hand.

Until now, Portland has opted to have only Fire Department emergency crews administer Narcan. But drug overdose reports are showing no sign of tapering off: Twenty-one people have died of overdoses in Portland so far this year, and police have responded to about 200 overdose calls. So we agree with Chief Michael Sauschuck that it makes sense to start having police officers deliver the remedy if they arrive before the paramedics do.

But at the same news conference last Friday where Sauschuck announced the move, calling Narcan “a miracle drug that save lives,” he said something else worth listening to: “I’m not happy that our officers will be carrying this drug. I’m not happy in the sense that that means that from a societal standpoint we’re not doing enough regarding treatment and prevention and even enforcement in certain regards.”

The chief is right to be frustrated. His officers are taking on the responsibility of saving lives because too many other people have allowed the crisis to continue and escalate.

The amount of money the state spends to prevent and treat addiction fell 6.6 percent between fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Gov. Paul LePage has repeatedly rejected MaineCare expansion funds that would help more Mainers with substance use disorders access treatment. He also sees no reason to increase reimbursement rates for methadone clinics. And this summer, he refused to sign a 46-state pact that prioritizes saving addicts’ lives over prosecuting them.

As a result, people are winding up in emergency departments or dying before they can get treatment. Maine saw 272 fatal drug overdoses last year; there were another 189 in the first six months of this year, putting the state on track to surpass 2014’s record toll of 208 deaths.

First responders across Maine are doing their part to address the state’s addiction epidemic. It’s not clear when policymakers will fulfill their responsibility: making sure Mainers get the help they need before they’re unconscious, on the ground, waiting for someone with a miracle drug.

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