AUGUSTA – Just a day before Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage will host a summit meeting on Maine’s ever-growing heroin abuse problem, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, will host his own roundtable on a similar topic.
LePage’s summit is planned for Wednesday, Aug. 26, and King has called his meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 25, in Brewer.
While LePage’s summit is set to include a host of law enforcement officials, including Maine’s Attorney General and the top officer at the state’s Drug Enforcement Agency, King’s roundtable appears to be more focused on treatment and prevention of opioid abuse.
Joining King’s discussion at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems will be Michael Botticelli, the federal director of national drug control policy, according to a release issued by King’s office Friday.
King’s roundtable is titled, Opioid Abuse in Maine: Federal response to a public health and safety crisis. It will focus on how federal policies can be improved to better address the serious threat that opioid abuse poses to personal and public health and safety in cities and towns across Maine, the release stated.
Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King, said Friday the roundtable, which starts at 10:30 a.m. at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems at 43 Whiting Hill Road, will be closed to the public, but news media have been invited to attend.
LePage’s summit on Wednesday is not open to the public or the media, according to his communications staff.
Ogden also said the roundtable was not intended to be a response to LePage’s summit and wasn’t intended to compete with it and was planned weeks ago.
Those participating in King’s roundtable will include prevention and treatment experts from around the state, people recovering from drug addiction, families dealing with addiction problems, health care providers, law enforcement officials, first responders, and other local leaders.
“Drug abuse has torn families apart, ruined lives, and far too many times robbed us of those we love and care about,” King said in a prepared statement. “It’s a serious and tragic problem that’s taken a turn for the worse in Maine, which is why we must have this important discussion to see how we can begin to do better by those who are struggling with drug addiction.”
King’s roundtable comes on the heels of an announcement by Maine’s Attorney General Janet Mills which detailed the number of opioid-related overdoses in the state since January. On Thursday, Mills warned of an increase in deaths from fentanyl and heroin.
Of the 105 overdose deaths in Maine since January, 37 were from heroin abuse and 26 were from overdoses of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is often sold on the street as a heroin substitute or mixed in with heroin — although it is far more potent, according to agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
In all of 2014, 208 people died of overdoses in Maine with 57 of those primarily attributable to heroin and 43 primarily attributable to fentanyl.
According to King’s press release, the roundtable Tuesday is the result of nearly a month of planning that began with a conversation between King and Botticelli in late July about the epidemic of opiate use and addiction in Maine and New England.
In his release Friday, King notes the problem has been highlighted recently by a tragic of overdoses in the Portland area that led to the deaths of two people.
“The goal of Tuesday’s forum is to bring together people from around the state – both rural and urban areas – who are on the front lines of this crisis to discuss ongoing challenges and potential federal solutions in the effort to combat this dangerous trend,” King’s release stated.
Botticelli leads drug policy efforts within the administration of President Obama.
Earlier this week, Botticelli announced the release of $2.5 million in federal funds for use across 15 states, including Maine, to fund a Heroin Response Strategy aimed at addressing the heroin threat through public health and public safety partnerships, the release stated.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report contained incorrect information. The roundtable being hosted by King is not open to the public. The information was incorrectly reported by the Sun Journal.