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“Anecdotes With Made-Up Details”: Maine’s LePage Fails To Defend The Indefensible

It was the sort of story that made Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) look so awful, he managed to even surprise his critics. In mid-April, the far-right governor vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense an effective anti-overdose drug without a prescription. But it was LePage’s explanation that added insult to injury.

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage said in a written statement. As we discussed at the time, the governor, in a rather literal sense, made the case that those struggling with opioid addiction don’t have lives worth saving.

Maine’s legislature soon after overrode LePage’s veto, but the governor recently hosted a town-hall meeting at which he defended his position. The Bangor Daily News reported:

“A junior at Deering High School had three Narcan shots in one week. And after the third one, he got up and went to class. He didn’t go to the hospital. He didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it. He just came out of it and went to class,” LePage said.

That’s quite an anecdote, which the Republican governor appears to have completely made up.

The Huffington Post reported yesterday that the principal at Deering High School described LePage’s story as “absolutely not true,” adding that the anecdote doesn’t even make sense – because Narcan isn’t available at the school.

On Monday, the governor again insisted the story was accurate, and pointed to Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck as someone who could verify the incident.

Soon after, Sauschuck also said every relevant detail of LePage’s story is wrong.

Circling back to our previous coverage, Naloxone – sometimes known by its brand name, Narcan – is a safe and effective life-saving treatment that counteracts overdoses. The point is not to cure someone of an addiction, but rather, to prevent them from dying.

The treatment is inexpensive; it’s easy to administer; and it’s harmless to others. Common sense suggests it should be readily available, especially in areas where the addiction crisis is especially acute.

LePage, however, said he’s principally concerned with not “perpetuating the cycle of addiction.” If that means more of his constituents will overdose and die, so be it.

And if defending this posture lead Maine’s Tea Party governor to share anecdotes with made-up details, apparently that’s all right, too.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 25, 2016

May 26, 2016 Posted by | Drug Addiction, Maine, Paul LePage | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Addicts Lives Don’t Matter”: LePage’s Callousness Takes An Ugly Turn, Even By LePage Standards

Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) ridiculous antics have made him something of a national laughingstock in recent years, with many observers inclined to laugh at his clownish behavior. But occasionally, the far-right governor’s actions are more repulsive than funny.

The Portland Press Herald reported yesterday, for example, on a LePage position that’s likely to literally cost lives.

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Wednesday that would allow pharmacists to dispense an anti-overdose drug without a prescription, saying that allowing addicts to keep naloxone on hand “serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

The Legislature passed the bill “under the hammer” – or unanimously without a roll call – this month as part of lawmakers’ attempts to address Maine’s growing opioid addiction epidemic.

In a statement explaining his rationale, the Republican governor argued, “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

Note, this was a written statement, not an off-the-cuff comment made during a press conference or an interview. LePage actually thought about his specific position, and argued that a life-saving drug treatment that prevents overdoes “merely extends” the lives of addicts – and he’s against that.

Maine’s governor, in a rather literal sense, made the case in writing that those struggling with opioid addiction don’t have lives worth saving. If LePage is convinced these people’s lives shouldn’t be extended, practically by definition, he’s making the case that their lives should be curtailed.

As long-time readers may recall, Naloxone – sometimes known by its brand name, Narcan – is a safe and effective life-saving treatment that prevents overdoses. It’s inexpensive; it’s easy to administer; and it’s harmless to others. Common sense suggests it should be readily available, especially in areas where the addiction crisis is especially acute.

And yet, Paul LePage is principally concerned with not “perpetuating the cycle of addiction.” If that means more of his constituents will overdose and die, so be it.

The Portland Press Herald’s article noted that the state legislation was actually recommended by CVS, which received a letter from Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), himself a former governor, “asking the chain to expand the availability of the antidote. The bill got support from both law enforcement and health organizations during the legislative hearing.”

It’s probably why the bill passed the legislature without objection. One would have to be callous to a frightening degree to object to such a proposal.

As for the next step, Maine’s legislature – the state House is led by Democrats, the state Senate is led by Republicans – will meet next week to consider overriding some of the bills vetoed by the governor. Don’t be surprised if this bill is among those that become law whether LePage likes it or not.
* Correction:  I’d originally identified Sen. Angus King as a Republican. This was a typo. The senator is, of course, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 22, 2016

April 23, 2016 Posted by | Drug Addiction, Paul LePage, Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Celebrating The Absurd”: Cruz Sees Border Wall As Solution To Drug Abuse

When Ted Cruz reflected this week on the crisis in Flint – which he inexplicably blamed on local Democratic officials who had no decision-making authority – he wrapped up his thoughts by reflecting on the road ahead for struggling cities like Flint. The solution, Cruz added, is to “go with the policies that work” – such as giving taxpayer money to private schools.

It was a bit jarring. A discussion about poisonous water led the Republican presidential hopeful to think about privatizing education – as if, on some unidentified level, the two unrelated topics were pieces of the same puzzle.

Yesterday, we saw something eerily similar happen at an event in New Hampshire. The Wall Street Journal reported:

Ted Cruz spent 18 minutes telling an emotional, gripping story of his family’s history of drug and alcohol abuse. His older half-sister and later his father, he told an addiction policy forum, got hooked and became addicted. His sister died, his father survived only after becoming religious, Mr. Cruz said in a Baptist church here.

So it was jarring to hear Mr. Cruz then pivot to his policy solution: building a wall along the nation’s southern border to stop illegal immigration and halt the flow of drugs from Mexico.

“If we want to turn around the drug crisis we have got to finally and permanently secure the border,” Mr. Cruz said. “We need to solve this problem; we need to build this wall.”

At a certain level, my expectations have fallen to such a low point, I’m inclined to give Cruz at least some credit for acknowledging an actual, real-world problem. There’s a drug epidemic; it’s destroying lives and families; and policymakers at every level desperately need to take it seriously. While some Republicans have dismissed the addiction crisis as meaningless, it seems like a small step in the right direction for Cruz to recognize, even briefly, that the problem exists.

If only his proposed solution were serious, we might be getting somewhere.

A Huffington Post report added:

After Cruz blamed the drug crisis on an insecure border, he blamed the insecure border on the Democrats, and some “cynical” Republicans, who favor immigration reform. He accused them of having base political motives for not doing more on the issue.

“As a political matter, the Democratic Party does not want to solve this problem. And as a political matter, far too many Republicans don’t either,” he said. “Sadly, stopping the drug traffic gets de-emphasized, because their policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration.”

None of this reflects reality in any way. Border security is up and illegal immigration is down. The facts are not in dispute.

But when given a choice between reality and absurd campaign rhetoric, Cruz finds it easy to ignore the former and celebrate the latter.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Border Wall, Drug Addiction, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Addicts Deserve Alternatives To Prison”: Misguided War On Drugs Has Left Many Victims With Scars

Earlier this month, five Republican presidential contenders addressed a New Hampshire forum concerned with a crisis swamping certain regions of the country, including New England: heroin addiction. The candidates spoke passionately, some sharing personal experiences, according to news reports.

Jeb Bush spoke of his family’s turmoil as his daughter Noelle, now 38 and in recovery, struggled with an addiction to prescription drugs and cocaine. “What I learned was that the pain that you feel when you have a loved one who has addiction challenges and kind of spirals out of control is something that is shared with a whole lot of people,” he said.

Carly Fiorina also talked about her family’s struggles; her stepdaughter, Lori Ann, died at 34 after years of battling drug and alcohol abuse.

“… As Lori grew progressively sicker, the sparkle, the potential, the possibilities that had once filled her life — disappeared from behind her eyes,” she said.

This new frankness and sympathy concerning the physical, emotional and financial costs of drug addiction comes as white middle-class Americans have found their lives upended by the emergence of heroin as the drug of choice for their children and grandchildren. Nationwide, the number of deaths from heroin rocketed from fewer than 2,000 in 2001 to more than 10,000 in 2014, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And experts say that nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.

As a result of their experience, there has been a stark change in public perceptions of drug abuse. You see it not only in the more sympathetic rhetoric on the campaign trail, but also in the less aggressive methods of law enforcement and the softer penalties meted out by legislative bodies. Police chiefs now speak of addiction as a medical and psychological problem that deserves treatment, not incarceration. And parents insist that their children be treated as victims, not as perpetrators.

If this signals an end to the wretched, misguided and punitive war on drugs, I welcome it. Still, I find it heartbreaking that the nation didn’t have the clearheadedness, the courage and the compassion to see addiction as something other than a crime during the 1980s, when crack was the scourge of poor black neighborhoods.

Back then, lawmakers, especially conservatives, competed to see who could impose the harshest measures on poor drug addicts, and police officers routinely rounded up penny-ante dealers to bolster their arrest records. I can recall the wild accusations about crack users, the phony science, the harebrained predictions.

When Congress passed the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, it enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drugs and enshrined into law harsher penalties for the use of crack cocaine than for powdered cocaine, which was more likely to be used by whites. Offering up invalid assertions not backed by any data, lawmakers insisted that crack was more dangerous — as were its users.

Remember the dire warnings about crack babies? According to some so-called experts, the nation would see a wave of children born to crackhead moms, babies whose intelligence would always be stunted and whose physical capacities would always be limited. In fact, those pseudo-facts turned out to be gross exaggerations. Some babies were, in fact, born addicted, but, given appropriate medical care, most have turned out to be no different than their non-addicted peers.

The crack epidemic finally died away, but the after-effects of the misguided war on drugs linger in the lives of countless black men and women. That so-called war has drained the national treasury of billions of dollars, torn apart countless black families and decimated entire black neighborhoods.

It has made permanent second-class citizens, forever marginalized, of tens of thousands of black men and women because felony records have rendered them virtually unemployable. In some states, those with felony convictions are not even permitted to vote.

Now that we seem to have finally figured out that addicts deserve alternatives to prison, perhaps we can find a way to help those who bear the scars of the war on drugs. They are victims, too.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, January 9, 2016

January 10, 2016 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Drug Addiction, War on Drugs | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We’re All The Same Underneath”: When White People Take Drugs, It Stops Being A “War”

Chalk up another piece of evidence for the longstanding notion that the nation’s “War on Drugs” is simply another aspect of institutionalized racism: it seems that now that heroin addiction is raging through white middle-class families, the nation’s appetite for tough-on-crime tactics is waning.

When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

“Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more middle class, these are parents who are empowered,” said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the nation’s drug czar. “They know how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so instrumental in changing the conversation.”

Apologists can try to claim that the racial disparity in understanding and treatment of the problem is due to people with more power having the ability to change the conversation.

But given the history of the enforcement of the drug war in the United States–starkly and painfully exemplified in the hysteria over “crack cocaine”–it’s a difficult stance to take.

The evidence suggests, rather, that American public policy has been centered around harsh punishment of populations that were at first openly and then more quietly assumed to be naturally subhuman and more prone to violence than whites. Racism, in other words. The drug war is another reflection of that same mentality. A large number of Americans harboring racial prejudice have an image of minority communities seething with chaos just under the thin veneer of civilization, with barbarism ready to strike at any moment in a toxic stew of drugs, handouts violence and uncouth music. The response is a war on drugs, tough-on-crime laws, hatred of taxes, and arsenals of guns for “protection.”

It’s no surprise, then, that when white people do drugs it’s not seen as the same kind of threat–because in minds of far too many Americans it’s not really the drug that is the problem, but the ability of the drug to release the supposedly natural tendencies of certain types of people. The same is true of guns: when a white person carries a gun they’re a patriot; when a black person does it they’re a criminal thug. Because it’s not about the gun, it’s about the person carrying it.

Racists don’t see this as a form of racism. They see it as a form of common sense. But it’s racism through and through. And unfortunately even for the racists, their public policy reactions in terms of gun proliferation, poor public safety nets and harsh criminal justice systems hurt not only minority communities but white ones as well.

America will make progress as a society only when we can move beyond these prejudices and realize that we’re all the same underneath, and we need policies of tolerance and understanding that reflect that fact.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 31, 2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Drug Addiction, War on Drugs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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