By Chris Holm
For a blog called Maine Crime Writers, we talk very little about Maine crime. That’s understandable, I suppose. For one thing, there’s damn little of it, per capita. For another, most of us are here because we love the state, and are therefore disinclined to shine a light on its shortcomings. But last week, it seemed Maine crime was all anybody was talking about.
At a recent town hall meeting, Governor LePage described Maine’s heroin problem thusly:
“These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty… these types of guys… they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”
LePage’s comments were—by any measure—racist and insulting, and the media’s response was swift. Rachel Maddow and The Daily Show had their fun. Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle weighed in. A local musician remixed his remarks. A novelty Twitter account parodied them. A second-rate lad-mag hack penned the hastiest of hot takes wondering if the nation would be better off selling our great state to Denmark for a tidy profit.
I’m not here to add fuel to the flames or spark a political discussion in the comment section. In fact, although I found his statements wrongheaded and offensive, I think the governor’s frustration over Maine’s drug problem is sincere, if misplaced. His comments touched on a common misconception among Mainers: namely, that crime (and, in specific, drug crime) is something imported by people From Away.
The fact is, our heroin problem has its roots in prescription opiate abuse, and the recent crackdown on same. This summer, the Washington Post ran a devastating long read about Maine’s heroin epidemic, centering on one well-to-do Falmouth family whose two sons overdosed within twenty-four hours of each other:
They were kids who had it made, at least on paper… They had cars, money and plenty of independence, like many teens in Falmouth, a town of 11,000, a place of privilege just across a short bridge from Portland, the state’s largest city.
It’s a place now ravaged by heroin—four overdoses, two of them fatal, in the past 10 months, in a town more accustomed to nothing of the kind. Maine is at the burning core of a nationwide heroin epidemic, the perverse outcome of a well-intentioned drive to save Americans from the last drug craze, a widespread hunger for heroin’s chemical cousin, prescription opiate pills such as Oxycontin.
Heroin—now cheap, plentiful and more potent than ever—is killing people at record rates. Across the nation, deaths from heroin overdoses nearly quadrupled in the decade ending in 2013, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Maine, deaths from heroin overdoses ballooned from seven in 2010 to 57 last year. Two-thirds of the victims were, like David, adults in their 20s and 30s. In 2012, heroin accounted for 8 percent of the caseload for Maine’s Drug Crimes Task Force; last year, it jumped to 32 percent. In Portland, the number of addicts served by the needle exchange nearly doubled in just two years. Today in Maine, a single tablet of Oxycontin often costs $50; addicts can find a single-dose packet of heroin for as little as $10.
I urge you all to read the whole piece if you have a chance. It might just change your perspective on the matter.
To give the governor some small measure of credit, I understand the temptation to see Maine’s drug problem as the result of some easily demonized Other that can be defeated (although I find it troubling that his idea of Other is ‘brown people from New York and Connecticut’), but we’ll never solve it thinking like that.
The problem is us—and the solution is us, too.
We need to expand programs like this one that get addicts into recovery, rather than locking them up or tossing them back onto the street. We need to pressure state lawmakers to approve funds for new rehab facilities. We need to treat drug users with compassion, not hostility.
Oh, and if any of you decide you need a new target for your hostility, I recommend the aforementioned lad-mag hack. Maybe, as this hilarious response to his piece suggests, we can sell him to Denmark for a tidy profit.