christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday that it was a mistake for Maine Gov. Paul LePage to try to paint the ongoing opioid epidemic as a racial issue.

Last week, LePage, a Republican, said that in the past six months he’s been collecting photos of people arrested on drug charges in Maine.

“I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Conn., the Bronx and Brooklyn,” he said, according to a report in the Portland Press Herald.

Further, LePage reportedly has since left a profanity-laced voicemail for a Maine state representative who suggested his comments were racist, and he later suggested he would challenge the lawmaker to a duel if it were still acceptable to do so.

Malloy, along with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, responded to reporters’ questions about LePage’s comments Monday during a conference call following a meeting in Boston where the governors of six New England states met with the premiers of five eastern Canada provinces. Most of that meeting and most of the follow-up call with reporters concerned the group’s discussion of energy projects and policy.

The opioid and heroin epidemic was part of the private conversations between governors at their meeting, and LePage left before the afternoon press conference. Reporters eventually got around to asking about his recent comments.

Malloy responded by referencing LePage’s suggestion that people of color make up more than 90 percent of drug arrests in Maine — a claim that was quickly debunked by the Portland Press Herald, which reported that FBI statistics show that of the 1,211 people arrested in 2014, 170 were black. Almost all of the others were white.

“I think it was a tremendous mistake last week to try to make the opioid issue a racial one,” Malloy said. “So I had someone do some research for me on people who are incarcerated in the state of Maine having to do with trafficking, and this was as of last friday: There were four asians. Seven were unknown. There were eight Native Americans. There were 12 people of two or more races. There were 90 people who were black or African American, and there were 301 who were white.”

Malloy said the opioid epidemic is not a racial issue.

“More white people are dying of abuse,” Malloy said. “More white, middle-aged people are getting hooked on the drug having to do with knee replacements and hip replacements and dental surgery. And I think it is a great disservice to look at this as a racial issue. It is not. It should not be confused as one. And we need to be careful about not mixing race into this particular issue.”

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, highlighted a new compact signed by 46 of the nation’s governors at the National Governors Assoication meeting this summer.

“That’s the first time in a decade that the nation’s governors have done this level of compact, to talk about best practices and approaches,” Hassan said. “We all know we need a comprehensive approach that addresses both the supply and the demand side. We have in New Hampshire just signed into law additional funding that will help our state law enforcement partner with local law enforcement throughout the state to address the supply side of this issue.”

But she also stressed the need for collaborative, team approach.

“At the end of the day we will stem and reverse the tide of this epidemic and we will beat it as we all continue to do it together, to be unified in addressing every single aspect of this issue, understanding how entirely devastating it is to our people, our families, our businesses,” Hassan said. “This is one of those moments where it doesn’t matter which side of the border you’re on, it doesn’t matter which state you’re in, it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re from. This impacts everyone. And if there is no other message out of a meeting like ours today, it is that we all — the premiers here, the governors here — represent the people of our states and provinces who all want a better, healthier future for themselves and their children. And overcoming this epidemic is critical to that kind of bright future for all of our people.”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, agreed.

“As I said many many many times,” Baker said, “this issue knows no neighborhood, it knows no race, it knows no class. It’s as pervasive as anything I’ve ever seen in my 30 years of healthcare. And I think we’re doing a lot of the right things with respect to prevention, education and treatment and recovery, all of us across the New England region. But there are probably some additional things we should be doing with respect to interdiction and collaboration and I look forward to working with my colleagues on that.”