In 2011, Maine had the unfortunate distinction of having the worst prescription drug abuse problem in the United States. Thanks to changing patterns of prescription practices, these numbers have improved slightly but heroin abuse in Maine has risen to fill in the gap.

Shadowing that statistic is the rising incidence of heroin overdose deaths. All told, opiate overdoses kill more Mainers than cars every year.

One would think this epidemic would prompt state leadership to address the health emergency that it is but, instead, we are steadily defunding treatment. There is now a two-year limit on the medicines used to treat this problem and, this month, thousands in treatment are starting to lose the insurance coverage through their loss of MaineCare, which means the majority will leave treatment and relapse.

This problem is not somewhere else. I have been running an opiate treatment program in Farmington for the past five years and I know exactly who they are: they are our sons, daughters and neighbors. They are people who work at the many low income jobs that do not provide insurance as part of employment.

Drug addiction and other health problems do not go away when we terminate someone’s insurance. Untreated, most problems get worse and show up in our emergency rooms, hospitals and criminal justice system.

There is now federal money to fund this treatment at 100 percent. I urge legislators to accept that aid and fund the expansion of MaineCare. Health care is expensive, but neglect is worse.

Steve Bien, MD, Farmington

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