Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Paul LePage is Wrong about Addiction

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.


  1. I just have to comment on this as someone who suffers from severe, chronic pain. Opiods relieve my pain; so far, nothing else has worked. Insurance won't pay for any of a number of procedures that would help me get by with fewer opioid. Two different surgeries have the potential to keep me nearly pain-free for up to a year...something I haven't experienced in almost 10 years.

    Every time my dosage is adjusted because I've become too tolerant of the prior dose, I get the "accidental overdose" lecture, or when my meds are changed. I get the lecture every time because people just like me die every day from accidental overdoses when their meds are adjusted.

    That's all it can take... a different opiate or a slightly stronger dose.

    We aren't addicts. Most of us would prefer actual treatment of the cause of our pain than mere palliative care. Yet these same political types as LePage continue to beat health care into the ground. So we're stuck.

    LePage, along with most politicians, has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to medicine. Republican opposition to health care reform forces those of us who have chronic, severe pain to avoid costly but effective surgeries and rely on (prescribed) narcotics to save a few bucks. But in Maine, if a chronic pain sufferer ODs on even the correct dosage of prescribed medicine, he or she can DIE. He is literally sentencing entirely innocent people to potential death-by-bad-luck in his ignorance.

    I could argue that addicts--the worst of them, those who've never had chronic pain but obtain narcotics illegal just to get high--also deserve to live. I certainly believe that. No one deserves to die in a manner that can be quickly treated because Maine has an ignorant right-wing governor. But I have to wonder what LePage thought when he was informed of the potential for what I'm going to term "innocent overdoses" to kill non-addicts and non-criminals. He had to have been briefed on all eventualities, right?


    So... either he knows that innocent people will die because of his ridiculous "cure" for addiction and doesn't care, or he made a decision based on bad evidence (or none at all).

    LePage is the epitome of ignorant, heartless Republican that we've come to know and loathe. Let's hope he gets voted out, that his insane blocking of a life-saving drug goes nowhere, that no other pandering politicians pull this nonsense in their states, and above all that no one has to die because Maine has a moron for a governor.

    Sorry for ranting on your page, Donna. I just get furious when politicians try to legislate health care and morality to the point of needless suffering and death.

    I just wish people would stop putting these vile excuses for human beings into public office.

  2. As a former pain pill abuser...I have to say that his stance is atrocious. Suboxone quite literally saved my life. Naloxone is one of the ingredients. His statement brings to mind another extreme right wing. Rush Limbaugh. He said many an insensitive thing, and found himself strung out on opiates. I don't wish that fate on anyone.

    However, it seems that the universe will often force you to walk in shoes that you mock. He should look at the pompous arrogance of his party mate, and note the end game. No one is truly "above" it. Crow is awfully bitter.