Last week, the Windham Legislative Delegation met with members of the Windham Police Department to discuss the hazards of drug abuse and addiction in our community.
The growing drug epidemic has had a chilling impact on small towns and cities all over the state. Two-hundred and eight people died of drug overdoses in Maine in 2014. Deaths from heroin overdose alone jumped from seven in 2010 to 57 last year, and have skyrocketed in the past few months.
The Windham community has not been immune to tragic episodes of opiate addiction, and the Police Department is working on proactive measures to drive down these shocking and devastating numbers.
It was an informative meeting that shed light on the importance of taking a three-pronged approach to fighting the drug epidemic: Prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
As the law enforcement branch of this comprehensive approach, members of the Windham Police Department, along with Chief of Police Kevin Schofield, talked about their efforts to target out-of-state drug dealers. They discussed their emphasis on tackling the supply side of the drug problem and focusing on interstate trafficking, rather than putting resources into going after local addicts.
Importantly, they understand that this tactic alone is not enough to solve the problem. The police department spoke about the significance of treatment and prevention in ending the deadly cycle of drug addiction.
There is a huge need for affordable and accessible drug rehabilitation facilities. And yet even in light of this increased need, treatment centers in Maine are closing their doors. Just last week, a nonprofit addiction treatment facility in Sanford announced its plans to shut down. The LePage administration’s lack of funding support was cited as the main cause. It is the second addiction treatment center this year to announce its closing due to financial struggles after the Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, one of the largest treatment facilities in the state, shut down in May. Others are struggling to stay open.
The legislature took several steps to bolster law enforcement efforts in the biennial budget. We funded six additional drug agents, two more drug prosecutors, two new judges and a drug court in Penobscot County. This year, we also built on previous efforts to expand access to the life-saving overdose antidote, Narcan.
Our well-trained law enforcement officers and public safety officials play a critical role, but a long-term solution to the drug crisis must also address the demand side of the equation – the hundreds of individuals battling with addiction every day. Jail time and prosecution are stop-gap measures that will do little to help end the vicious cycle of drug abuse and addiction.
There must be collaboration between law enforcement and public health professionals so that the issue is addressed from all angles. The Windham Legislative Delegation will continue to work closely with local officials as we move forward.
August 31st was International Overdose Awareness Day. We must keep working to save lives. Too many Maine families are grappling with the senseless tragedy of drug overdose.
As always, please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.