Governor LePage is Weak On Drug Policies

Last week Governor LePage told reporters that the current legislature is “weak on drugs.” His plans to increase spending on law enforcement is designed to reduce the availability of illegal drugs in Maine. That not every citizen of Maine is outraged by his proposal is a testament to our collective apathy.

Regardless of your position as to what ought to be done to combat addiction, all it takes to see that the Governor’s plan will fail is a cursory understanding of history. Nobody is asking the Governor if he grasps how Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs fared?

It failed. Miserably. Continuously. Without exception. It’s as laughable as Nancy’s “Just say no.”

Illegal drugs are the best example of how capitalism works. It’s all about supply and demand. Traditionally, Republicans hope to reduce supply through law enforcement efforts and Democrats seek to reduce demand through treatment and rehabilitation. For the past forty years, the side that has the most power tends to engage in a one sided battle.

Of course it never works because addiction must be fought on multiple fronts. It’s just a lot sexier to talk about DEA agents than it is to discuss formulating an effective education program aimed at middle school aged children. There’s more political capital in hiring prosecutors than there is in funding outpatient therapy.

Case in point of why LePage’s approach can’t work:

In recent years 2008-Present, we’ve made huge gains in reducing the availability of pharmaceutical opiates (both in terms of legally prescribed and illegally distributed). During this same period of time, countries like Afghanistan have had record crops of opium. Heroin is cheaper now (when controlled for inflation) than it was when it was an epidemic in the 70’s.

Heroin has become a pandemic in Maine. Anyone who doubts that simply isn’t paying attention. Seeking to eliminate supply of a substance is as antiquated as prohibition. It only drives the problem further underground and creates new resulting problems.

The greatest hypocrisy of LePage’s proposal is that as he seeks to reduce supply on the streets, he also seeks to vastly reduce availability of Methadone in Maine. His stated intention is that folks who rely on Maine Care to receive Methadone through clinics will instead receive Suboxone from the primary care physicians.

That plan is either based in deception or ignorance. It’s well documented that Maine does not have nearly enough physicians prescribing Suboxone to absorb that many patients. Regardless of your personal views about Methadone, please consider this:

No one has ever gotten a bad dose of Methadone. Bad doses of heroin are altogether too common. Unless you favor social Darwinism, nothing about LePage’s proposals for addressing addiction in Maine make sense because they increase demand and can’t effectively limit supply.

Nothing short of a multidimensional approach has a snow ball’s chance in hell. Anyone knowledgeable about addiction and recovery knows that. Come down to the trenches, Governor. Visit Maine’s recovery communities. Talk to the good men and women of AA and NA. Listen to the stories of folks in Nar Anon and Al Anon. Effective leaders connect to those with the most expertise in the problem.

Addiction affects every life. It’s time to admit that what we’re doing is largely ineffective and recognize that we are all stakeholders.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.