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Politics

Maine Could Benefit From Obama’s Proposed Opiate-Fighting Funds

President Barack Obama wants a billion-dollar boost in spending to combat the country’s opiate crisis — an increase that could benefit treatment and enforcement in Maine.

Obama says the crisis response must include prevention, medicated treatment options and targeted enforcement.

As part of an overall government budget to be submitted to Congress next week, the White House is asking for $1.1 billion dollars to fund a quiver full of weapons to battle the epidemic of opioid abuse.

“We know that issues around the opioid epidemic are complex and multifaceted,” says Michael Botticelli, Obama’s drug policy chief. “This budget announcement continues to support the administration’s comprehensive response to dealing with this issue, and also underscores the urgency of additional action that we need to take.”

The biggest chunk of new funding — $920 million — would go to states to expand access to drugs such as Suboxone and methadone, which can help addicts wean themselves from dependency. Another $500 million would go to existing programs in rural states — programs that aim to prevent overdoses, or improve availability of an overdose cure called naloxone, and to law enforcement activity.

The White House also says most of the funding dedicated to medication-assisted treatment would go to states that can demonstrate the severity of their epidemics and the strength of their strategies to respond to it.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, says it’s an open question how Maine would rank among states competing for the funds.

“I think that’s something that Maine is going to have to work on,” he says. “I know that we have a network of providers, and we’ve got a network of prevention people, that there are a lot of assets that are at work on this problem. But I think this places the onus on the states to demonstrate that they can use this money effectively.”

That assumes, of course, that the money comes through. Republicans in Congress routinely reject Obama’s overall budget proposals. But White House officials note that in a budget deal at the end of December, lawmakers did include close to $100 million in new funding to battle the opiate crisis.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of health and human services, says it’s a “common cause” issue that lawmakers in both parties are being forced to confront.

“They go home, and they hear,” she says. “And this is about the needs in their community and making progress on problems that are front and center in many of the communities they have.”

King says he thinks the bulk of the funding request will be authorized. And U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District says he believes Capitol Hill will get behind significant new money to combat the crisis.

“There are about a thousand babies born every year in the state of Maine born addicted to drugs,” he says. “I spoke up about this several months ago and co-sponsored a bill to help meet that challenge. So I am glad that the president has stepped forward with this. I am quite certain there’ll be lots of bipartisan support.”

Poliquin adds, though, that the Republican-led House, where budget bills begin, will put its own stamp on any addiction-fighting legislation before it is enacted.