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Governor’s Address: It’s Time to Mobilize State Government to Stem the Tide of the Opioid Epidemic

In the past five years, at least one thousand, six hundred and thirty people in Maine have died from drug overdose – more than the population of Chesterville, Eastport, or North Berwick.

418 died in 2017 alone – more than one a day.

These people are not “junkies.” They are our neighbors, co-workers, family members, school mates, and graduates of our high schools and colleges. They are our sons and daughters. They are people without labels, citizens without stereotype.

History will note that we have lost an entire generation of people to the opioid epidemic and that we have simply failed to address this preventable disease. It’s time to mobilize Maine state government to stem the tide of this deadly epidemic.

As a candidate for this office, I promised to take action to address the opiate problem. I said that, as Governor, I would make sure there was one person whose sole responsibility would be to flesh out what is working and what is not, to draft a blueprint for change, and to report to me every day, every week, about our progress. I have appointed Gordon Smith to be that person.

Gordon Smith has been Executive Vice President of the Maine Medical Association. He is a former Chair of the American Society of Medical Association Council. He has held many other high-ranking positions. He is an experienced, well-respected, and highly qualified public health expert.

As the new Director of Opioid Response, he has my complete confidence in his ability to work across departments to knock down the silos that have prevented us from combating this crisis and protecting Maine families.

He will work closely with medical providers, treatment experts, law enforcement, educators, and community members to figure out what is working and what is not to determine the concrete steps we can take to turn things around.

In consultation with legislative leaders, Gordon will convene a Prevention and Recovery Cabinet, to include all of our commissioners and the Attorney General, that will determine our needs and coordinate an effective and prompt response.

It’s time for action, and that action should begin right now. Within the next two weeks, with input from Gordon Smith and our new commissioners Jeanne Lambrew, Michael Sauschuck, Randall Liberty, and others, I will issue an executive order to direct the specific steps we will take to address this crisis.

Among other things, we will partner with hospitals, treatment providers, jails, and community members to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, increase availability of life-saving naloxone, promote effective education and prevention measures, and establish a robust hotline that works to take traffickers off our streets.

In my inaugural address, I spoke directly to Mainers suffering from substance use disorder. I speak to them again and to their loved ones when I say: You are not alone.

You have my word. Wherever you are, we will do everything in our power to bring you back to make our communities, our families, and our state whole once again.

We will confront this epidemic together.

Thank you.

Janet Mills

Governor

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