Another state task force has been formed to address Maine’s opiate crisis and submit recommendations to lawmakers.

The Legislature voted unanimously Thursday to create the panel, and it established an April 30 deadline for completion of a report and any recommendations for legislation.

The move comes about nine months after a similar task force, established in the summer of 2015 by Gov. Paul LePage, produced a lengthy report filled with recommendations, some of which have been put into action but many of which have not.

The new task force comes just weeks after the state Attorney General’s Office announced that 378 people had died from drug overdoses in Maine last year, a 39 percent increase over the previous year. Overdose deaths, driven by heroin and fentanyl mostly, have more than doubled in Maine since 2013.

“Overdose claims the life of at least one Mainer every single day,” said Sen. Troy Jackson, the Senate Democratic leader. “Drug addiction is killing our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends and co-workers. This public health crisis doesn’t care where you come from, what your background is, how much money you make or what language you speak. It can come for anyone, and it’s going to take all of us to stop it.”

Rep. Eleanor Espling, the assistant House Republican leader, called in late December for the creation of a joint select committee of the Legislature to work solely on the drug crisis.

“She obviously wanted a committee, but this is the next best thing, so she’s hopeful they can at least take a look at what we’re currently doing and determine what is and what isn’t effective,” said Rob Poindexter, spokesman for the House Republicans.

Poindexter said the difference between a committee and task force is that a committee could more easily vote out bills that could provide immediate help, whereas a task force report might languish before any action takes place.

The task force, whose members will be announced in the coming weeks, will include four members of the Senate and four members of the House, as well as one member each from the following: a hospital administrator, a law enforcement representative, a treatment provider, a person in recovery, a physician specializing in addiction treatment, a representative from the Maine Medical Association, and a representative of substance abuse and recovery service providers.

Also, invitations will be extended to the governor and the attorney general, or their designees, as well as a representative of the judicial branch.

The goal of the task force is to produce a report by April 30 that includes legislation that could be considered during the current session. A second report would be due by Dec. 6 for consideration during the 2018 legislative session.

It’s unclear whether the task force will arrive at different conclusions than the similar task force did last May, when it released a report calling for more access to treatment and to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.

In December, Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced a plan to create 359 new treatment slots for uninsured Mainers. It was the first major commitment by the LePage administration to increase access and state funding for medication-assisted treatment such as methadone and Suboxone.

The governor is working with lawmakers, including Jackson, on plans for additional treatment spending of up to $3 million, which would leverage about $5 million in federal funds and serve an additional 600 people.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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