Fentanyl has changed the war on drugs. We must not surrender to it

By Sen. Brad Farrin

AUGUSTA – Last week, Senate Republicans unveiled several proposals to help get Maine’s drug overdose death epidemic under control. According to the Maine Drug Data Hub, a collaboration between the State and University of Maine where our substance use disorder data is tracked, 10,110 people suffered drug overdoses last year and 716 people died.

Hello, this is Senator Brad Farrin of Somerset County. I’m joining you for this week’s Republican Radio Address about a very serious topic.

In the time since the Maine Opioid Task Force was created in 2017, fatal drug overdoses have increased by 71 percent, including a 13 percent jump just last year. And so far this year, we’ve already seen over 2,500 drug overdoses and 140 suspected or confirmed deaths, putting 2023 on track to match last year’s record figure.

Sen. Brad Farrin

Before I talk about our proposals, let me first give you some facts surrounding our overdose epidemic in Maine, due mostly to the nonpharmaceutical synthetic opioid fentanyl, many of which are calling a manufactured poison.

This poison is 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. It acts so fast that a few grains no bigger than salt can stop your breathing and kill you within minutes.

Of the 108 confirmed fatal drug overdoses so far in 2023, fentanyl was the most frequent cause, taking the lives of 86 or about 80 percent of all victims.

Police said a drug bust last month resulted in the seizure of enough fentanyl “to kill the entire population of Portland.”

Speaking of seizures, restaurant workers in Auburn discovered 14 kilos of fentanyl that were shipped by an Auburn man to their restaurant last week. Now, one kilo of fentanyl can kill half a million people so he had enough poison to kill the entire state seven times over.

And finally, our mitigation efforts are failing. Although we’ve distributed Narcan statewide, fentanyl is mixed with drugs such as cocaine, ketamine and tranc, all of which Narcan doesn’t have any reversing effect. Therefore, these drug combinations still end up killing the user.

The approach Republicans discussed last week centers on three basic elements, the so-called three legs of the prevention stool. They are education, recovery and treatment, and enforcement.

I’ll talk about education first. For years now, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program that many of us grew up with has disappeared across the state. Yes, some schools still have it; but for the most part, the loss of this program has left large gaps in preventative drug education efforts.

And the legalization and “normalizing” of cannabis hasn’t helped the message we’re sending our kids either. When combined with the mental health decline of our schoolchildren, particularly girls, we need more preemptive measures instead of reactionary or normalizing ones.

Another element is recovery and treatment. Now, this is not harm reduction, which I’ll get to in a moment. This is the intervention and treatment of those suffering from mental illness and substance use, both of which may go hand-in-hand. We need more resources to increase recovery beds, the availability of services, school-based community health centers and holistic mental health/substance use case management.

There’s no doubt that we must do a better job.

The final leg of our prevention stool is enforcement. Many will say the war on drugs has been fought and lost. I disagree. The facts I gave you earlier show fentanyl has changed the battlefield. It’s no longer just a joint in the backseat of a car. Despite measures to reduce overdoses and deaths, more people are dying today from a poison that is clearly being trafficked from China right through Mexico.

If we want to get serious about saving lives, we need to reflect that in the way we legislate. That means getting tougher – not softer – on enforcement. I’ve put in a bill to do just that by increasing penalties for trafficking in fentanyl.

Which brings me to my final topic: Democrat bills that seek to decriminalize drug possession and open “harm reduction” centers. Ask Oregon how that’s going. Well, in case you’re wondering, more overdoses and deaths.

In fact, fatal drug overdoses, the truest measure, have increased 50 percent since they decriminalized hard drugs in 2021 and by 128 percent over the last five years.

Look, the bottom line is when it comes to trafficking drugs, Maine is not open for business. Our kids are precious; and they are depending on us to do the right thing. Why? Because there is nothing more irreparable or final than death.

By then, it’s too late.

Again, this is Senator Brad Farrin of Somerset County. Please enjoy the warmth outside this weekend.

Senator Brad Farrin represents the communities of District 3, which includes municipalities in Kennebec, Penobscot and Somerset counties. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

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