Maine Governor's Backwards Ideas on Drug Abuse Will Kill More People

Gov. Paul LePage opposes access to anti-overdose medication despite a rise in fatal heroin deaths in his state.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Kamira

Since the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the press has refocused the spotlight on the crisis of heroin addiction. The New York Times published a feature highlighting all the "no-names who passed away" from heroin use, and recovering addict Russell Brand wrote an op-ed in The Guardian skewering "extremely stupid drug laws" that criminalize addicts and prevent them from getting the help they need.

Those laws stem in part from the archaic idea that addicts are "dangerous...vermin of humanity," in the sordid words of Myles Ambrose, a leading drug crusader under President Nixon. Athough nearly four decades have passed since Nixon initiated the war on drugs, the framing of addicts as moral deviants--rather than physically sick people in need of health care--continues to shape our drug policy and the views of our elected leaders.

Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) is one politician who steadfastly holds onto outdated, dangerous conceptions of drug use. LePage will reportedly reject a bill increasing access to a lifesaving anti-overdose drug out of the absurd idea that its increased availability will lead to a spike in heroin use.  

State Rep. Sara Gideon is the main sponsor of the legislation, which would place the drug naloxone (sold under the name Narcan) in the hands of police, firefighters, drug users and their families.

"His main objection is his belief--and I have to emphasize 'his belief' because there is no evidence that supports this at all--his belief that increasing availability of Narcan or naloxone will lead the drug user or drug abuser to have this feeling of invincibility," Gideo said to HuffPost. 

The governor also vetoed a bill last year that would have provided legal immunity to health professionals who administered naloxone to people suffering from an overdose, and struck down another measure that would have created protections from prosecution for drug possession for people who call 911 to report a companion who had overdosed.

"If you want to change someone's behavior and really reduce the harm, you need to be able to save their life first," explained Gideon to HuffPost. "It's that simple. unless you believe that somebody who is using a drug should die because of their choice, I don't see how you can object to putting Narcan in the hands of more people."

In his three years as governor, drug warrior LePage has sought to cut funds for substance absue treatment and expanded the number of agents at the state's Drug Enforcement Agency. Meanwhile, fatal heroin overdose in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.

Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_
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