Despite rising death toll, LePage vetoes opioid treatment bills

Governor Paul LePage once again capped off the legislative session with a flurry of vetoes including a number of bills aimed at addressing the state’s opioid epidemic, leaving advocates distraught and frustrated over what they see as a “heartless” response to a major public health crisis.

Among the bills caught in LePage’s crosshairs were LD1707, which would fund clean hypodermic syringe exchange; LD1711, a pilot project of low-barrier treatment and housing for homeless opioid users; LD105, which sought to establish a Substance Use Disorder Cabinet in the Maine Legislature; and LD812, which would establish a pilot project in Washington County for residents seeking treatment and recovery support for substance use disorders.

LePage’s penultimate year in office saw 418 Mainers die of an overdose–a number that will likely rise, said Andrea Littlefield, director of development and communications with the Health Equity Alliance (HEAL), due to lack of funding and limited services.

In his veto letter for LD1707, LePage said that needle exchange programs “send a message of passive consent for these dangerous and destructive activities.”

HEAL, among other things, focuses on harm reduction services including distribution of the anti-overdose drug naloxone and syringe exchange. Of their services, Littlefield said that LePage has “put up roadblocks all the way…mak[ing] it very difficult for us to help people.”

“The things we provide are either underfunded or not funded,” Littlefield continued, “but we do them because they are the right thing to do. Again, we lost 418 people last year.”

Similarly frustrated is Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook), whose bill, LD1711, would establish a pilot program to provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), such as Suboxone or methodone, stable housing, as well as daily therapy and mental health services for 50 homeless people in Maine. It was seen as an important test of what could become a new model for treatment.

In a statement provided to the Portland Press Herald, Gattine questioned why LePage would “exercise his veto authority in such a heartless way.”

“These are people who struggle every day to meet their most basic needs of food and shelter, and simply offering traditional treatment in traditional settings is an inadequate approach to helping them manage and maintain recovery,” Gattine said. “We need to meet them where they are to have a chance to really help them. To do anything less is a death sentence. I hope the Legislature is able to override this senseless veto.”

In his dismissal of 1711, LePage wrote, “Maine is working hard to combat the opioid epidemic that has affected so many families in our State,”–a remark that Littlefield said was “funny…because I don’t know what they’ve done.”

“There’s not enough money for treatment, syringe exchange or harm reduction services,” she said, adding that the administration has also made it more difficult to distribute naloxone by imposing age restrictions on the drug.

As members of the Maine legislature reconvene on Monday, Littlefield is also encouraging representatives to override the vetoes. “We need these resources to really help the people that we are serving,” she said.

About Lauren McCauley

Avatar photoLauren McCauley is Editor of Maine Beacon. Previously, she was a senior editor at Common Dreams covering national and international politics and progressive news. Lauren also helped produce a number of documentary films, including the award-winning Soundtrack for a Revolution and The Hollywood Complex, as well as one currently in production about civil rights icon James Meredith. Her writing has been featured on Newsweek,, TruthDig, Truthout, In These Times,and Extra! the newsletter of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. She currently lives in Kennebunk with her husband, two children, a dog and several chickens. Lauren can be reached at Lauren(at)

Sign up for Beacon newsletters

Our newsletter, sent each evening, curates the day's most important stories from newsrooms around Maine.