August 26, 2015 / 8:45 PM / 4 years ago

Maine governor convenes police summit on heroin crisis

AUGUSTA, Maine (Reuters) - Maine Governor Paul LePage said on Wednesday the state would boost police efforts to fight its burgeoning heroin crisis, calling on support from the National Guard, a day after the top U.S. drug official pushed for improved access to treatment in the state.

Maine Governor Paul LePage pauses at the end of his prepared remarks as he testifies before a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing to review draft legislation on hydropower, on Capitol Hill in Washington May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

LePage held a closed-door meeting with state law enforcement officials and afterward his spokeswoman said he would not address the public so as not to politicize the issue.

But Maine’s top public safety officials said the state will deploy the National Guard in a support role to combat drug trafficking and renewed pleas for more funding to fight narcotics-related crimes.

LePage has taken a tough stance on heroin abuse and trafficking, saying the state needs to reallocate scarce resources to law enforcement from treatment programs that are not working. That view has put LePage increasingly at odds with the White House and some state lawmakers.

“These drugs are coming into our state and until you get to the root of that problem, you won’t solve it,” Adrienne Bennett, the outspoken Republican governor’s spokeswoman, said.

At a roundtable Tuesday organized by Maine independent Senator Angus King, U.S. Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli told participants that too few Americans have access to treatment facilities.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Botticelli said. “We need to give people real preventative care.”

The back-to-back meetings in Maine underscore the difficulty in finding a balanced response to the unabated rise in the use of heroin and opiate-based painkillers, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has described as a national epidemic.

Heroin use has more than doubled among people aged 18-25 in the United States in the past decade, according to CDC figures, while overdose death rates have nearly quadrupled.

Maine lawmakers earlier this year added drug enforcement officials to the state’s payroll but two major addiction treatment centers recently said they would be forced to close, citing a lack of state funding.

The state is on track to see more heroin overdose deaths this year than last, when a record 100 people died from abuse of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opiate similar to heroin, the state’s attorney general said last week.

Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott

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