I’m very proud of my brother Gordon Smith, who stepped up to serve Gov. Janet Mills as Maine’s director of opioid response. Gordon is very excited about this opportunity, although it is a very great challenge.

Gordon has led the Maine Medical Association for many years so he is very familiar with this problem, and he and Gov. Mills have already created an ambitious plan to tackle the problem.

In her announcement, the governor said, “History will note that we have abandoned an entire generation of people to the opioid epidemic in our failure to treat this preventable disease. It is time to mobilize state government to stem this deadly tide.

“Gordon Smith is an incredibly experienced, qualified public health expert. I trust his ability to knock down the silos between state agencies to ensure every branch of government is working together to combat the opioid crisis and protect Maine families.”

Gordon said, “While the opioid epidemic will not be eradicated by any single approach, with a spirited effort and coordination among Maine’s state government agencies, we can save the lives and improve the health of our state. I am incredibly thankful to Gov. Mills for the opportunity to lead such meaningful work and I look forward to working with her cabinet and community members across the state to get it done.

“Maine has not fared as well as other New England states in part because our state response has been anemic,” said Gordon. “While we have made progress in decreasing the amount of opioids prescribed for pain, in almost every other category we are behind other states. And while we frequently refer to the problem as a crisis, I recall quite vividly giving my first educational talk to physicians about the problems of OxyContin getting into rural Maine in 2002.

“My point is, this problem has been with us a long time and it will not be eradicated with any single approach.”

Not long after that initial press conference, Gordon and Gov. Mills outlined their initial plan, which includes a variety of actions from the purchase of 34,000 units of the lifesaving anti-overdose medication naloxone to the training of 250 recovery coaches and a full-time recovery coach in 10 emergency departments across the state to facilitate the movement of more people into treatment programs.

I read through their plan several times and have been impressed by how quickly they pulled together this comprehensive approach including everything from improved training and awareness for health care professionals to targeted prevention programs in high risk areas and school-age children. Expanded access to treatment is also a critical factor.

I’ve also been impressed with the governor’s first budget. I wondered how she was going to tackle all of her ambitious plans without raising taxes but she managed to do that.

I especially appreciate her determination to fulfill the state’s obligations to provide our communities with revenue sharing and better school funding. She can’t get it all done immediately but she has started us down that important road.

Right now we raise more money from the property tax then we do from the income tax or the sales tax and that is just a wrong way to raise money.

Gov. Mills and Judy Camuso, the new inland fisheries & wildlife commissioner, visited with me at my Mount Vernon home in early February to talk about outdoor issues. My friends Ed Pineau and James Cote joined us, and the governor brought lunch for all of us.

We spent a couple of hours visiting — and shared a lot of laughter. We discussed our hopes for IF&W improvements and initiatives. I had shared with Gov. Mills and the commissioner my own list — four pages of suggestions.

We talked about all of my suggestions, as well as the commissioner’s very ambitious list of initiatives. It was great to see that the governor is fully supportive of Judy and her initiatives. The next few years are going to be exciting!

Gov. Mills surprised me at the end of our talk when she presented me with her very first State of Maine proclamation. The proclamation included a list of things that I have accomplished in my career, from my work at the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine to my service at the local level and my writing.

At the end of the proclamation were these words:

“Whereas, George Smith’s love and respect for our natural resources and for his native state of Maine is unsurpassed; and

“Whereas, the people of the state of Maine likewise hold George Smith in the highest regard;

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that I, Janet T. Mills, Governor of the State of Maine, do hereby declare gratitude to George Smith for decades of service to Maine through his advocacy for the outdoors, natural resources, and rural economy.”

The proclamation was signed by Gov. Mills and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. This was so generous and unexpected — and yes, it made my day!

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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