There are times when politicians completely mystify me. I'm not naive: I've been a broadcaster and a news reporter, and I've taught Political Communication for a while, so the exaggerated claims or the promises that are impossible to keep don't shock me. I understand that during primaries especially, candidates need to say what they think their audience wants to hear. But there are certain times when politicians who are not in campaign mode make a statement that is so outrageous, or so cruel, that I have a difficult time wondering how they sleep at night.
Exhibit A is the current Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage. Maine has tended to be a purple state: even its Republican members of congress are generally moderate. But Governor LePage seems to pride himself on being somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. This is the same governor who has claimed that immigrants bring diseases to his state (not much evidence of that, by the way); who has asserted that black drug dealers come to Maine to impregnate innocent white girls and get them hooked on drugs (police statistics have noted that nearly every drug dealer arrested in Maine has been white); and who once said he would like to "tell Obama to go to hell." This seems to make him very popular with some conservatives, but I doubt that his latest action will win him much praise: he just decided to block bipartisan legislation that would provide a life-saving medication called Naloxone (better known as Narcan) to addicts who have overdosed on opioids. Narcan gives the addict a second chance at life, and that may be one good reason why legislators from both parties unanimously passed a bill to make it more readily available to pharmacists (who would now be able to dispense it without a prescription); these Maine politicians recognized, as legislators in about thirty other states did, that addicts need treatment rather than punishment.
But for Governor LePage, addicts are criminals, and that's all there is to it. Not only that, but he believes taking drugs is a choice, so those who do it must suffer the consequences. In other words, the thousands of Mainers addicted to drugs don't deserve to be helped if they overdose, since they're inevitably going to go right back and do the same thing the next time. He said as much when he vetoed the bill: “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose. Creating a situation where an addict has a
heroin needle in one hand and a shot of Naloxone in the other produces a
sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to
perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”
I find those comments both ill-informed and heartless. I have never done drugs, but I've lost a number of music industry colleagues to addiction; some of them were people I really liked a lot, and if there had been a medication to save their life, I would have been glad to see them get another chance. I understand that many addicts do go back to using again, and as a former counselor, I have seen how frustrating it is to try to treat people who still do not accept that they have a problem. But while I saw first-hand that many addicts were not about to quit, I also saw some who were fed up with their life and determined to make a positive change. And yes, there were success stories: several friends of mine have been clean and sober for years, and one of them even decided to get a Master's degree in counseling in order to help other addicts.
Believe me, I am not trying to minimize the problem of drug abuse in our society -- I am well aware that addicts steal, they lie, they disappoint those they love. And yes, many addicts will be back on the street using again. But as I said, there are always exceptions; there are always some who know they need to stop, some who desperately want to get clean and sober. I would hate to write off an entire group of people, since it's impossible to predict whether this time, the addict is serious about seeking treatment. Shakespeare said "the readiness is all," so perhaps this time, the person will be ready to turn his or her life around.
But not in Paul LePage's world. Governor LePage's message to addicts seems to be "you made your bed, and now you can lie in it." One wonders if he would say that to someone in his own family. One wonders if he would say that to a grieving parent whose child overdosed and was unable to get the medication that would reverse it. In many states, governors are realizing that just locking up addicts, or demonizing them, doesn't help them to change. But Governor LePage seems happy in his black and white world, where there are no shades of gray-- just good guys and bad guys; a world where people who suffer from addiction can expect neither compassion nor mercy.