Our View: Maine drug laws only making bad situation worse


The legal justice system has for many years now performed a central position in addressing habit in our communities. On any measurable scale, it has failed.

A girl regains consciousness in 2015 after Portland paramedics administered the overdose antidote Narcan. Maine noticed 502 deadly overdoses in 2020, surpassing the earlier excessive of 417 deaths in 2017, which on the time was thought of to be the peak of the opioid disaster.  Derek Davis/Workers Photographer, File

Charging and incarcerating individuals with substance use dysfunction has turned sick individuals into criminals. It has ruined hopes of steady housing and gainful employment. To these laid low by trauma and disconnection, it has added extra.

On the similar time, medicine are extra plentiful and stronger than ever. Extra individuals are dying than ever.

It’s not working. It’s costing lives. It should change.

L.D. 967, now earlier than the Legislature, would make the possession of scheduled medicine for private use a civil violation, with a nice of no more than $100. In lieu of fee, the defendant can as a substitute bear an evidence-based evaluation for substance use dysfunction.

Underneath this invoice, anybody caught with a small quantity of a scheduled drug can be pointed towards remedy, not a cell.

Why? As a result of if somebody has an issue with substance use, they won’t find the help they need in jail, the place they’re remoted from household and group, and habit remedy and different well being care are spotty at greatest.

As a substitute, jail ensures a criminal record that should be defined on each utility for housing, training and employment, making it exceedingly tough to get a foothold again in society.

Jail, too, makes worse the issues of psychological well being, neglect and trauma that always result in substance misuse. And it hardly ever improves issues; these not too long ago launched from incarceration are at a particularly excessive danger of overdose.

And if it’s a guardian who’s incarcerated, these issues are simply passed on to the next generation.

Incarcerating individuals who endure from a transparent, although complicated, well being downside is solely not resolving that well being downside. Right here and there, there are tales of individuals shocked into sobriety by the specter of jail. However these are the exceptions – the legal justice system as a rule pulls individuals in and doesn’t let go.

In Maine, 1 in every 10 arrests is said to medicine. Harsh legal guidelines have given regulation enforcement and courts for years the power to arrest and prosecute individuals for having only a small quantity of narcotics.

And but the drug downside continues to break lives on a large scale.

A response to habit with the legal justice system on the middle is just not working. It is going to by no means work.

As a substitute, Maine must put substance use disorder treatment first, in order that it’s out there to everybody who desires it, together with different helps for individuals in restoration, together with housing. Hurt discount providers are essential to maintain individuals alive within the meantime.

Collectively, we have to discover the place communities have frayed and repair them, in order that their members are resilient.

Poverty, abuse, trauma, disconnection – these are the enemies, not our neighbors fighting habit.

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