Maine’s leaders have never suggested arresting and criminally charging people who test positive for COVID-19 and locking them up in jail. Why is this?

Could it be that no physicians, epidemiologists, or public health experts have recommended criminalizing COVID-19 as a way to address the pandemic? Can one imagine Maine’s Department of Public Safety saying we should arrest people with COVID-19? This sounds ridiculous, but it’s exactly what the state is doing to address the other public health pandemic — the opioid crisis.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on April 30 heard over three hours of testimony in favor of LD 967 from community members, including addiction medicine doctors. The law would remove criminal penalties for low-level drug possession, making it a civil offense and offer people connections to treatment.

Doctors are the experts here, not law enforcement, because substance use disorder is a medical problem, not a crime. Therefore, Maine should listen to the doctors, not the cops.

Maine has done a lot of good work to address the opioid crisis, but locking people up for an illness remains a blind spot. Even Attorney General Frey, when asked if he thinks our current approach of jailing people for low-level drug possession is working, admitted, “It’s not.”

He’s right. It’s not. And in the meantime, we keep losing our loved ones to overdose deaths.

It’s time to try something else. Let’s try listening to the doctors and offering treatment instead of jail.

Rosanna Boyce, Auburn

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