As opioid deaths skyrocket, police call for Maine to expand Medicaid

As opioid deaths skyrocket, police call for Maine to expand Medicaid

An updated analysis released Tuesday by the offices of Maine’s Chief Medical Examiner and Attorney General shows that drug overdose deaths have continued to increase rapidly in Maine. Last year’s 376 deaths represent a nearly 40% increase over 2015 and nearly all were related to opioid abuse.

“This epidemic is not limited to one area or region of Maine,” said Attorney General Janet Mills. “Our cities are being hit hard by this, but rural regions are not immune[…] This is happening to your friends and family, and it is happening in your neighborhood.”

The report comes on the heels of the first meeting of a new task force formed to make policy recommendations to the legislature on confronting the crisis. At the meeting, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who co-chaired a law enforcement group that made recommendations as part of the Maine Opiate Collaborative last year, was asked for the top item on his “wish list” for fighting the opioid crisis.

“Medicaid expansion,” said Sauschuck, according to the Portland Press Herald. “It’s funny, as a cop sitting here, I’m not going to tell you that I need more drug agents. I’m going to tell you I need more treatment and I need more prevention work.” He noted that many of those dealing with addiction lack health insurance and can’t access health or addiction services.

“If we’re not doing prevention, treatment and enforcement – and we’re not doing them equally – then we will fail and we are going to continue to fail. And when we fail in this conversation, people are dying. A person is going to die today, tomorrow and every day moving forward, (that) is what the stats show,” said Sauschuck.

The Press Herald recently completed a 10-part, in-depth special report on the heroin crisis.

In February, Maine’s Secretary of State certified that enough signatures had been collected to place Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. The measure is currently before the legislature where they could choose to pass it straight into law instead.

Maine is currently one of 19 states that haven’t yet taken advantage of funding available through the Affordable Care Act to provide health coverage to a larger slice of the low-income population. Bills to expand Medicaid have passed five times in the legislature with bi-partisan majorities but have been consistently vetoed by Governor Paul LePage.

Photo via Flickr/The B’s

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