The argument over how to fund the most recent legislation designed to address the addiction epidemic in Maine would be funny if it weren’t such a life-or-death issue. Some House Republicans, including Rep. Ken Fredette and Rep. Jeff Timberlake, expressed opposition to funding the increases earmarked for treatment and education from a lawsuit settlement Maine received last year.
At the time Maine received the $21.5 million settlement from Standard and Poor’s, Attorney General Janet Mills said the money “would be used for consumer protection efforts.” She has since approved using these funds for the proposed legislation. Republicans who oppose using that settlement think the funds should come from Healthy Maine Partnerships monies, public health funds that come from Maine’s share of the tobacco settlement years ago.
But here’s the deal — it doesn’t matter in principle or practice from which settlement it comes.
First, our elected officials seem to be in consensus that this particular piece of legislation is just a first step, and I’d argue, a greatly appreciated, but small first step. With Project Hope in Scarborough already assisting 100 people with addiction into treatment since October and with similar programs developing all over the state, the treatment side of the collaborative approach is going to get expensive quickly. I’m not a numbers wonk, but I’m guessing that legislators will be tapping into both funds before this process is over — especially if a MaineCare expansion isn’t a part of their strategy.
Fighting about where to get this first round of money from is like fighting over where to throw the first shovel full of snow. By the time our state has this epidemic under control, many shovels full of funds will get thrown, so they might as well just start shoveling once an addiction-related bill has been approved.
As for the principle of the thing, one could argue that a failure of consumer protection led to a public health crisis — so tapping into either fund is appropriate. “75 percent of heroin addicts used prescription opioids before turning to heroin.” Prescription opioids are products purchased by consumers, and those products have been directly linked to a rise in addiction. Therefore, a lapse in consumer protection led to a public health crisis, and the funds for either endeavors are appropriate to use in this capacity.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe called the disagreement over funding “really unnecessary.” He’s right, but I’d take it even further and call it unnecessarily obstructionist. And anything but funny.
Update: A previous version of this post referred to Rep. Jeff Turner, rather than Rep. Jeff Timberlake, from Turner.