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My Brother Died From an Overdose a Year Ago Today

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My brother died from an overdose a year ago today.

I got the call in the early hours of the morning. The days that followed were a foggy mix of grief and anger.

He was two years younger than me. I spent a good part of our childhood looking out for him, no matter what kind of mess he got himself into. I look back on my relationship with him often, wondering what I could have done differently. Sadly, my solutions would be too late.

I’ve remained silent for a year about this in my public communications. Only a few people outside family and friends knew what had happened. At the same time, I’ve been watching closely as our elected officials in Augusta and Washington D.C. work to stop the flow of poison across our borders.

I’ve been encouraged at times, watching news clips of law enforcement taking down drug traffickers bringing large quantities of drugs into Maine.

I’ve been discouraged a lot, every time I see that another family has lost a loved one to an overdose.

Here is what I know – for a long while now, every time someone says we need to do more to crack down on the trafficking of drugs into Maine, a certain group of local political operatives attacks them and says that they are stigmatizing addictions, and instead insists that what we really need is more and better treatment programs.

If your neighborhood was flooding, would you call upon the crews filling and stacking the sandbags to hold back the flood of water to stop their work so they could come help you bail out your basement? No. Any thinking person would understand that unless you hold back the flood, all the bailing in the world is not going to solve the problem.

Maine was recently recognized for its passage of one of the nation’s top reforms to prevent opioid abuse this past legislative session. To those who worked toward passage of this bill or supported the final product – I THANK YOU.

I also want to thank Congressman Bruce Poliquin for recognizing this problem and pro-actively engaging Maine communities and working to combat this crisis. There is no more stark a contrast in Maine politics than Congressman Poliquin working to help combat the drug crisis here in Maine while his opponent Emily Cain was in Hollywood rubbing elbows with wealthy donors, including one that sat on the board of a group seeking the legalization of hard drugs, including heroin.

I’d also like to ask Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond a couple of questions:

How many pounds of heroin have been trafficked into Maine since you launched your latest attempt to throw out Governor LePage with this illegitimate “poll” of the Maine House? How many Mainers have died of an overdose since you started this latest charade?

This special session you want to call, which is widely expected to produce nothing except maybe the passage of a resolution with no enforcement mechanism, would cost $43,000 on the first day plus $37,900 each day thereafter. Wouldn’t that kind of money be better spent by law enforcement or treatment centers?

Most importantly, Speaker Eves and Sen. Alfond, when this drug crisis really began to grow, and Governor LePage was speaking out, where was your sense of urgency?

We have numerous tools at our disposal to protect Maine people, but we need leaders willing to put partisan politics aside to use those tools effectively.

Maine now faces a reality we can’t escape. Poisonous drugs are flowing into Maine and a robust market of customers awaits them.

Maine’s law enforcement agencies have done incredible work in rooting out drug traffickers, but their battle continues every day. We need to support their work with the best tools and funding we can muster. We need to create an environment in our communities where they know we appreciate their work. We have police officers in this state working hours most of us could not endure so that they can be available to administer Narcan, or protect our streets from traffickers. As Mainers, we need to band together to support these tireless individuals.

Maine’s communities come together to support our members every day. We need to continue to look out for one another, alert law enforcement when we see the tell-tale signs of dangerous drug activity, and be willing to express concern to the families of those we feel are at risk.

Maine’s drug treatment community is a close-knit community of well-intentioned people. We need to identify the best treatment facilities and programs and support them. We need to speak out against the stigma of addiction and we need to use the power of community to support families in need.

On the treatment side, based on my experience with my brother, I would also add another element: Maine is in need of a place that sits far away from the neighborhoods where those suffering from addiction live, an escape for those seeking treatment. A place where they can find long-term spiritual and emotional relief and healing, far away from the temptation of an easy fix in their own neighborhood. They need a reprieve from the places where they have a mental street-map of the local dealers.

Sadly, anyone who has known and loved someone with a drug addiction understands that the issues that this person faces are much deeper than the substance itself. Often, the abuse of a substance arises as a result of other things in a person’s life, depression, isolation, or uncontrollable life events.

If I had my way, we would create a Maine North Woods Recovery Center – far away from the nearest community drug dealer, where people suffering from addiction could truly escape the environment that enables their continued drug use. It would be staffed with volunteer medical professionals, faith-based counselors and secular counselors, who focused not just on the drug addiction, but on helping those suffering with addiction heal themselves completely.

I don’t have the whole idea fleshed out yet but I envision programs similar to Maine’s faith-based treatment programs intertwined with medical treatment and nature-based recreation and physical labor that sustains the community at the recovery center.

I can’t imagine a better place in the world to heal a person’s soul than Maine’s wilderness and waterways.

I can’t help but to think that a place like this would have been the type of place my brother would have been willing to go and seek the help that may have saved his life.

All of this aside, moving forward on any additional support for Maine families in this drug crisis depends on one thing – for our elected officials in Augusta to put down the pitch-forks and work together on the best solutions to protect Mainers.

History will not remember yet another failed bid to gain a partisan advantage in an election year, but history will not look kindly on leaders who stared this crisis in the eye but turned away because the upcoming election was more important.

In closing, I would urge readers to reach out to those you love who may be suffering from a drug addiction today and tell them you love them. Offer them whatever help you can provide.

Tomorrow might be too late.

About Jason Savage

Jason Savage has been the Executive Director of the Maine GOP since 2013. Before heading up Maine's premier political party, he co-founded and served as Executive Director of the non-profit organization Maine People Before Politics, where he advocated for lower taxes, less debt, welfare reform and other priorities for Maine people. Jason's work has been published in every major newspaper in Maine.

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