Comprehensive anti-drug bill becomes law after unanimous votes in House and Senate

Posted: January 19, 2016 | Appropriations and Financial Affairs, Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Health and Human Services, Senator Gerzofsky, Senator Haskell, Senator Valentino

AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature on Tuesday voted unanimously to enact a law that represents a first step in combating the state’s deadly drug addiction crisis.

The proposal had also won unanimous support in the House of Representatives. After the Senate’s vote, the bill was sent to Gov. Paul LePage, who quickly signed it into law.

The law includes efforts to reinforce Maine’s law enforcement capacity to fight drug dealers on the streets and to strengthen the state’s treatment efforts to help more struggling Mainers break free from addiction.

“Today the Legislature worked in a bipartisan fashion, acting with one voice to approve this bill,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, the lead Senate Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “We needed to act fast to take this first step toward an ongoing, comprehensive battle to fight this drug menace, and we’ll continue to work together to do just that.”

The bill — LD 1537, “An Act to Combat Drug Addiction through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery” — will provide $2.4 million for additional addiction treatment programs, including a new 10-bed detoxification facility to be located somewhere in the underserved Northern or Eastern Maine regions. It will also support increased access to treatment services for uninsured Mainers, and bolster peer support recovery centers, which help those in recovery avoid relapse.

“With a divided Legislature, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. But we knew that to address the drug addiction crisis, we needed to put politics aside,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This plan addresses both the supply and demand side of our drug problem, and will result in more treatment options for Mainers struggling to escape the grip of substance use disorder.”

The bill also supports continued funding for 10 new MDEA agents. Those agents, once hired, will lead additional investigations that will continue MDEA’s work to bust trafficking operations and keep drugs off the streets. Additionally, it provides start-up grants for local law enforcement agencies to establish projects similar to Scarborough’s Operation HOPE, to connect addicts with treatment, recovery and support services.

“Maine, like the rest of the country, has been fighting the ‘War on Drugs’ since the days of President Reagan. But despite all that effort, five Mainers are dying every week from drug overdose,” said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, the lead Senate Democrat on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “Obviously, it’s time to take a new approach. This bill is the first step.”