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Maine governor signs executive order on opioid epidemic

February 6, 2019
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Governor Janet Mills speaks at a news conference in the State House, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Augusta, Maine. Mills is accompanied by Department of Corrections Commissioner Randy Liberty, left, Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith, second from right, and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. Mills later signed an executive order directing immediate action on the opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed a sweeping executive order Wednesday aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic that’s plaguing the state and region.

Her action calls for the purchase and distribution of an additional 35,000 doses of the overdose antidote naloxone along with funding to train 250 recovery coaches. Full-time coaches will be placed at 10 hospital emergency rooms.

It also calls for the state to consider the idea of putting naloxone at state buildings, similar to automated external defibrillators.

Mills said the state has not done enough to address a health crisis in which Mainers are dying at the rate of about one per day and about three babies are being born each day to mothers with substance-abuse disorder.

“I will not stand by while every day in Maine someone needlessly dies of a drug overdose and three children are born drug-affected. It is time to marshal state government to finally confront this crisis,” she said in a statement from Augusta.

President Donald Trump already has declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, and some 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017, according to federal numbers.

In Maine, 418 people died from drug overdoses in 2017 and about 7 percent of all babies born in the state were affected by opioids or other drugs.

Mills made addressing the crisis part of her campaign for governor, and she already appointed an opiate response director, Gordon Smith.

The goal, Mills said, is to provide lifesaving measures to those in crisis as well as expanded treatment over the long haul. The cost will be $1.6 million from existing state and federal funds in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said her spokesman, Scott Ogden.

Her order also calls for implementing medication-assisted therapy programs with anti-craving medication; logging and mapping overdoses to track “hotspots” in real time; and creating targeted prevention programs.

Medication-assisted therapy will be provided in a pilot program to prison inmates, Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said.

The state also will encourage doctors who prescribe high doses of opioids to co-prescribe naloxone in the event of overdose.

The executive order is the start of a comprehensive plan to be worked out with lawmakers during coming weeks and months, Mills said. “People say, ’How can you afford to do this? I say how can we afford not to?” she said.

Republicans in the Senate and House issued a joint statement praising the governor’s action — and calling for her actions to be evaluated for effectiveness. “We all have a shared goal of saving lives,” the statement said.

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