Democratic Weekly Address: Gerzofsky says, “If we are truly committed to defeating this scourge, it will take more than throwing dealers in jail. ”
For some time now, Maine and the rest of New England has been battling a serious opiate epidemic. In cities and towns across the state, a deadly addiction problem is claiming lives and devastating families. The surge in heroin and opiate overdoses – including the 14 we had in Portland earlier this month- demands a thoughtful and creative response, one that couples law enforcement and treatment.
Good Morning. This is State Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick.
Next Wednesday, the Governor is convening a drug summit.
This is the right thing to do.
But, noticeably absent from the summit is any real focus on treatment — almost no one who works directly with addicts, or even recovering addicts themselves, are invited.
Limiting the conversation to only criminal justice, neglects the facts. Our country has waged a war on drugs for the past four decades–and it clearly hasn’t been very successful. History has shown us that we cannot arrest our way out of this drug crisis.
In just the last four years, the number of drug arrests related to heroin has quadrupled–yet despite increased arrests, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin and morphine have increased 800 percent!
And so while I agree we must focus on making our streets and neighborhoods safe and drug and crime-free — as I say, if you do your crime in Maine, you should do your time in Maine– but arresting drug-dealing-thugs is not the only priority.
To tackle this drug crisis in any meaningful way, requires more than a one-pronged approach. One that addresses the supply side–ridding our streets of drug dealers–and, then the other side of the equation–treating people who are addicted to these drugs–which is the demand side. If nothing else, it’s basic economics. It’s all about stopping the flow by stopping the demand. As long as addicts need the product, there will always be drug dealers who step up to provide the supply.
While the number of Mainers seeking help for their addiction swells, Maine is failing to keep up with the demand for drug treatment. Doors to treatment and recovery centers in Maine keep closing. Just this year, Governor LePage attempted to defund drug treatment programs such as methadone treatment; and recently Mercy Hospital’s addiction recovery center in Westbrook closed its doors. The treatment programs that do still exist are reporting long wait lists for patients who want help.
If we are truly committed to defeating this scourge, it will take more than throwing out-of-state dealers in jail. We need to increase our commitment to treatment and support Mainers toward a successful recovery–and arrest those criminals who are feeding their habit.
As the Governor gathers folks at his drug summit next week, I for one will encourage that our state move away from his overly simplistic and outdated view of addiction–and, instead, push the discussion in a more thoughtful and comprehensive direction.
I want to thank you for listening. This is State Senator Stan Gerzofsky. Have a safe weekend.