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Politics

LePage Sets Deadline for Enlisting National Guard in Drug Crisis

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has set a date for calling out the National Guard to assist in responding to the state's drug crisis.

It's not clear what the Guard will do, but LePage says he's tired of talking about the problem and will take action. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle say they agree that government should respond, but are repeating their call for a more comprehensive approach that includes expanded treatment.

LePage wants lawmakers to call themselves into a special session soon and provide the funding to hire ten more drug agents. He says he is tired of talking about the problem.

"On December 10th I am calling out the National Guard," he says.

It's not clear what the governor will ask the Guard to do. It already provides analysts at every regional office of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and at the Maine Information and Analysis Center. And federal law prevents the Guard from acting as police. But LePage says he's tired of waiting for legislative leaders to respond to the problem.

"They can give me a time, a time specific when they are going to do something," he says. "But they just want to meet and talk. I am done talking. I am done meeting. Everything meets is a negative, they never want to do it. It's a blame game. We … people are dying every single day."

"This is important stuff," says Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau. "I need to talk to him."

Thibodeau says he has asked to meet with the governor for months to talk about the drug epidemic and other issues but has not been able to get a meeting scheduled. He says the approach to the crisis has to be comprehensive and that will require open communications between the Legislature and the executive branch.

"I need to talk with the commissioner of public safety; I would like to talk with the commissioner of health and human services," Thibodeau says. "These are all people that have vital information and we need these to share it with us so we can make good decisions."

He says he'd also like to hear the recommendations of the task force set up at the governor's drug summit. He says he has been working with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves on how to bring legislative committees into the discussion about the development of additional treatment resources and prevention efforts. Eves agrees that the state must take a comprehensive approach to the drug crisis.

"There are not enough treatment options here in the state," he says. "Either there are not enough options or people don't have health insurance for the treatment, so they are sending them out of state. We need to do more on the treatment side; we need to make sure we are connecting the dots between the law enforcement and the treatment side."

Eves says a special session on the drug problem in the next few weeks is a possibility, but lawmakers can't put together a comprehensive plan without the full cooperation of the governor and his commissioners. He says leaders are trying to set up a meeting with some of LePage's department heads later this week. LePage, however, will be out of state at the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association.