Two bills and a legislative request are before the Maine Legislature that will move our state toward a public health effort and away from criminalization of substance use disorder:  LD 967; LD 994; and LR 1817.

My mother died of complications of addiction to pain medications in 1982 at the age of 63. She was a physician herself. She was able to hide her illness, she went untreated, and died too young.

But she was protected by the medical community from the criminal justice system. As a family, we were protected from the trauma and stigma of incarceration. So many Mainers do not have that protection under our present system — a system that makes war on sick people and their families, not on drugs.

We should do everything we can to move people struggling with addiction into treatment, and everything we can to keep them safe and alive until that becomes possible for them. Our existing laws criminalize possession of small drug amounts for managing addiction until a person is able to move into recovery. These arrests have not resulted in a decrease in drug sales by dealers.

All the while, too many Mainers have had their lives, and their children’s lives, ruined by arrest and incarceration as they struggle with addiction. And too many Mainers are still dying every day from this illness.

Law enforcement officers could redefine their role to be part of this effort to redirect our resources into truly successful harm reduction and saving lives. That’s our most important goal.

Peg Hoffman, Lewiston

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