Last Friday, I had a decision to make. I had to decide between listening to a speech by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or listening to a panel of Maine health care providers with U.S. Sen. Angus King. I chose the latter and sent a representative from my office to the former.

The two talks, taking place at the same time on the same day, were both about Maine’s opioid crisis, but their proposed solutions could not have been more diametrically opposed. These two talks illustrate that we have a decision to make between two paths: invest in prisons or invest in people.

Attorney General Sessions wants us to invest in prisons. He is giving Maine the money to hire more prosecutors to try more cases so that everyone found with any amount of fentanyl can be prosecuted and sent to prison.

Maine sheriffs had asked the attorney general for money for naloxone and treatment to enable them to save more lives. These requests fell on deaf ears during Attorney General Sessions’ speech in Portland. But two hours away in Camden, where a very different talk was taking place, these requests were being heard.

In Camden, we heard from a panel of Maine experts, including doctors, employers and Sen. King, on their solution to the opioid crisis. The answer in Camden was that treatment does work. Their answer was that people in long-term recovery can become hardworking members of our community.

But treatment is not available to most of the people who need it. A 2014 federal survey found that 21.5 million Americans age 12 and older had a substance use disorder in the previous year, but only 2.5 million received the specialized treatment they needed. Clearly, there are barriers to seeking and staying in treatment. When those barriers are overcome and treatment is received, people are successful.


We heard from a Maine employer who discussed his personal experience in hiring people in recovery from opioids and how they had provided him with a reliable and talented workforce. We heard from doctors who explained the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment. And we heard from Sen. King, who told us that the barriers to recovery were money, treatment infrastructure, lack of mental health care and stigma. Not one of the Mainers saw more prison as the answer.

Who is right? Maine people need to decide. We can all agree that we need to prosecute people selling fentanyl on the streets. But possession of fentanyl? In any amount? Remember: All heroin is mixed with fentanyl. Seeking prison for those with fentanyl in any amount means we will be seeking prison for every opioid user. Is this what Maine wants? To give up on our neighbors struggling with the disease of addiction?

The answers from the Maine panel cost less than the answer proposed by Attorney General Sessions and keep our community safer. Prison costs $44,000 a year per inmate, whereas treatment in one of Maine’s drug courts costs $26,000 a year. Equally important, 75 percent of those who spend time in prison commit new crimes after they are released, compared with those who graduate from our drug courts, where over 75 percent are successful and do not commit another crime. Our community pays the price when we choose prison over people. We pay the price with higher tax dollars and future victims.

Our state cannot afford to throw away an entire generation. This is why I support the solution proposed by the Maine panel and reject the solution of Attorney General Sessions. It is not enough to be prosecutors. We must become justice workers. Our Maine sheriffs understand this. If only Attorney General Sessions would listen to them.

Last Friday I had a choice to make. I chose to work toward policies that value people. I chose to listen to hope instead of fear. I chose to put Maine people first.

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