Maine can choose to invest in community instead of failed policing programs, by eliminating the Maine Information and Analysis Center Program (MIAC) and spending that money on desperately needed recovery centers throughout the state.

The MIAC is one of the latest in state agencies created to expand failed drug interdiction efforts. More than 50 years of efforts have failed to achieve their goal, in a “whack a mole” policy. Like the boardwalk game, interdiction efforts focus on suppressing drug shipments and sales in one area — whacking the mole — only to have them pop up again. These efforts will not achieve our goals of reducing the negative health and economic impacts of opioid and other substance use disorders.

I reviewed the MIAC “opioid arrest bulletins,” leaked documents now in the public record. These documents provide photos, names, and addresses of people arrested for opioids but no analysis. As part of my work with the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College, I have interviewed many people like those whose mug shots are circulated by the MIAC — people arrested for drug trafficking crimes in Maine.

Listening to their stories, I find people who are victims — of sexual assault and childhood trauma, of untreated mental illnesses, of systemic neglect and mistreatment from the institutions charged with protecting them. They are people charged with trafficking because of the amount of drugs they use, because Maine’s antiquated drug laws define possession of small quantities of drugs as trafficking. Or they are selling drugs to support their habit, to not become dopesick, to quiet the inner torment of anxiety, depression and despair.

One person charged with trafficking said, the MDEA treated me as if I was the Mexican drug lord El Chapo, but I am a homeless drug user, living in a tent, selling what I can to support my habit and find food.

Maine cannot afford to throw good money after bad. We say, we can’t arrest our way out of this, that problematic drug use is a public health problem. The money we are spending on failed policing efforts like the MIAC means we cannot spend that money where it is needed.

This year, L.D. 488 asks for a million dollars to fund recovery centers in every county in Maine. In Maine, we do not have treatment for everyone who wants it. We do not even have recovery centers in every county. Recovery centers are a foundational piece of public health approach to substance use disorder, where struggling people find connection, resources and support.

Why am I discussing funding for recovery centers when we are talking about MIAC? Because we have been told there is not enough money to fund recovery centers. This bill would make that money available to funds for these recovery centers.

L.D. 1278 would put money back into the General Fund, $399,944 in fiscal year 2021-22 and $533,260 in fiscal year 2022-23. That is almost a million dollars that could go directly to investing in recovery, in our communities, in a brighter future for struggling people.

Maine communities cannot afford to keep funding failed policies. It is time to put our money where our mouth is: to fund recovery supports, public health infrastructure and invest in communities.

Winifred Tate is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Colby College. She is director of the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College.


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