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Governor’s Address: First Steps in Combatting the Opioid Epidemic

When I took office, I gave my word to Mainers suffering from substance use disorder. I told them that they are not alone. I told them that, together, we will do everything in our power to bring them back, to make our communities, our families, and our state whole once again.

Since I took office, the Director of Opioid Response, Gordon Smith, and my cabinet have identified immediate steps we will take to address the opioid epidemic. Last week, I directed my administration to implement specific actions to address this crisis. I signed my second Executive Order, “An order to implement immediate responses to Maine’s opioid epidemic.” This Executive Order defines a number of separate but related actions that will be taken by my administration, right now.

These actions will save lives, help protect our children and young adults from the appeal of dangerous drugs, and ensure that Mainers suffering from substance use disorder in our emergency rooms, our jails, and on our streets will find the resources they need to recover and rebuild their lives and become productive citizens of Maine again.

These actions will supplement the vigorous efforts of law enforcement at all levels who are stemming the tide of drug trafficking into Maine that is fueling this epidemic. And, as noted explicitly in this Executive Order, the actions undertaken by the administration will be done with a view towards reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorders.

In the past five years, more than one thousand, six hundred and thirty people in Maine have died from drug overdose – more than the population of Chesterville, or Eastport, or North Berwick. 418 people died in 2017 alone – more than one a day. And just last year, 908 babies were born in Maine affected by drugs.

The time for action is now. We will put the full force of this administration behind those families who have lost loved ones, businesses who have lost valued employees, and all communities diminished by this public health crisis.

In addition to the Executive Order, I’m signing a financial order authorizing the purchase of 35,000 doses of Naloxone for distribution to locations determined by our Department of Health and Human Services. This life-saving drug will go to hospital emergency rooms, needle exchange programs, public health units, peer recovery centers, emergency responders, and many other appropriate locations.

Federal funds to pay for this purchase are already available in the office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. Mainers with substance use disorder, their families, and friends should have access to the training to safely administer this life-saving drug while we work to address the opioid epidemic.

It is not enough to prevent Mainers from dying of a drug overdose. We also have to help people turn their lives arounds after they’ve been saved. Across the country and in Maine, the use of recovery coaches has had a positive impact on addressing the opioid epidemic and helping in long-term recovery.

I have directed the DHHS staff to recruit and train two-hundred and fifty qualified recovery coaches. I’ve also directed them to fund a full-time recovery coach in up to ten emergency departments in the state. These initiatives will be paid for with existing funds – federal funds – available through the Department.

We will also reinforce programs for Medication-Assisted Treatment in the jails. Commissioner Randy Liberty is committed to piloting a Medication-Assisted Treatment project in the prisons. Mainers working to rebuild their lives after incarceration should not have to face the additional battle of combating addiction alone.

This Executive Order is just the start of a series of actions that my administration, in partnership with the Legislature, public health community members, law enforcement, and many others, will take in the coming months.

It is time for our state to recover and become whole once again.

Thank you.

Janet Mills


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