Maine's First Female Governor Targets Opioids

Maine's First Female Governor Targets Opioids

Governor Janet Mills is making the opioid epidemic in her state her top priority.

Democratic Governor Janet Mills is making the opioid crisis in her state her top priority. Going the complete opposite direction of her predecessor, she has expanded Medicaid and made plans to appoint an opioid czar in her first days in office.

Her Medicaid expansion would allow thousands of additional Maine citizens into the program, including those who need assistance in fighting opioid addictions.

“A major part of the health care crisis is the opioid epidemic,” Governor Mills said in her inaugural address. To combat the epidemic in Maine, Mills said on Twitter she wants to appoint a czar to “marshal the collective power and resources of state government,” hoping to prevent deaths such as the 418 overdose deaths in Maine last year.

Mills’ predecessor, former Republican Governor Paul LePage, was not constructive in approaching the drug crisis, suggesting the problem had something to do with race. In August 2016, LePage claimed he had a binder that showed a massive majority of busted drug dealers were black or Hispanic

“I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come,” LePage said. “And I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

An audit of the binder revealed roughly half of the offenders in the binder appeared to be white. After being accused of being a racist, LePage denied the charges and claimed he was just stating facts.

“You’ve been in uniform? You shoot at the enemy,” he once said at a statehouse press conference. “You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

Treatment advocates have high hopes for Mills’ plan.

Gust Stringos is the medical director of a family practice in Skowhegan, a small town in Maine with a population of 8,000. He said half of his patients are battling opioid addiction.

“Many of them were on Medicaid and then lost it in the era of LePage,” he said.

He recalls one 21-year-old female who relapsed after losing coverage and dropping out of the treatment program. When she got pregnant, she requalified and was readmitted.

“If she had been able to stay on Medicaid in the first place, she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant and wouldn’t have relapsed,” said Stringos. “That’s a typical story of people losing insurance and what happens.”

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