AUGUSTA — Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he fully backs a bill that could lead to manslaughter charges for those who sell an illegal drug that causes an overdose death.

During an interview with a Bangor radio station, LePage repeated his belief that drug dealers who peddle deadly doses of heroin, fentanyl or other opiates should be charged with murder and receive the death penalty if convicted. Short of that, he said, he’s “all in” supporting a bill by Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, that could lead to manslaughter charges for drug dealers.

“If you can find the person who sold the drug that caused the overdose, I think that’s murder,” LePage said. “I wish it was murder and I wish there was capital punishment and we would eradicate it much quicker.”

Maine saw a record year for overdose deaths in 2016, with 376.

Cyrway’s bill was rejected by the Maine House later Tuesday on a largely party-line vote, with 76 voting against the bill and 69 voting for it. The bill will face additional votes in the Senate and House.

LePage, who was speaking to WVOM radio hosts Ric Tyler and George Hale from a Republican Governors Association gathering in Miami, said he believes the administration of President Trump is committed to providing more federal funds to help fight the opioid crisis in Maine and around the nation.

Last week U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price visited the State House and met with LePage and a group of doctors, law enforcement officials and those involved in the treatments for addiction to brainstorm ideas about how to fight what Price described as a “losing battle” so far.

Price’s visit was met with criticism that Trump administration policies would significantly reduce federal funding for addiction treatment and substance abuse prevention.

During his radio interview, LePage also offered some advice for those who are addicted.

“If you’re a user, go get help,” LePage said. “Go get help. Seek out some form of rehab and we will be there to help.”

Critics of LePage have said he’s been slow to act on the opioid crisis in Maine and only recently has embraced strategies that include more funding for treatment. LePage’s opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage in Maine has also been blamed for limiting access to treatment programs while demand for in-patient care has far outstripped available bed space.

Recently LePage has backed more funding for addiction treatment and services while moving to increase available treatment beds, including a new 200-bed inpatient facility for addicts at the state prison in Windham.

For several years as the problem worsened, policymakers – led by LePage – made it harder to get treatment. The state reduced reimbursement rates for methadone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. It tightened eligibility for MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, leaving many low-income people without the ability to pay. LePage fought against increased access to Narcan, prompting Attorney General Janet Mills, a frequent adversary of the governor, to sidestep him and use funds her office controls to provide the drug to local police departments.

The LePage administration agreed last December to spend $2.4 million for medication-assisted treatment for uninsured Mainers, many of whom lost insurance during cuts to MaineCare. And in February, the administration worked with lawmakers to add $4.8 million for treatment into a supplemental budget.

But LePage continues to oppose increasing access to Narcan and offered legislation this year that would allow emergency responders to charge overdose victims for the overdose antidote after they had been given more than one dose.

In January 2016 LePage joked about publicly executing drug dealers with a guillotine. Maine abolished the death penalty in the 1800s.

LePage has also drawn criticism for claiming over 90 percent of those being arrested for trafficking drugs in Maine were black or Hispanic based on a three-ring binder of arrests he had compiled. But a review of LePage’s own records and booking photographs showing people of those races accounted for only about 40 percent.

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