‘One person a day is dying’ in Maine, drug overdose numbers surpass 2015

Posted Nov. 14, 2016, at 5:30 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — With 286 drug overdose deaths in Maine already on the books as of September, the state has already exceeded the record-setting drug-related death totals of last year, Attorney General Janet Mills announced Monday.

“One person a day is dying from a drug overdose in Maine,” Mills said. “I cannot stress how dangerous these drugs are.”

Maine saw a record 272 overdose deaths in 2015, and there were 208 overdose deaths in 2014, which was also a record.

Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or clandestine lab-made fentanyl have been linked to 195 or 68 percent of the drug-related deaths in the first nine months of 2016, according to a preliminary analysis compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg, a University of Maine medical and forensic anthropologist who analyzes overdose deaths for the state’s attorney general.

The increase is mainly due to illicitly manufactured or nonpharmaceutical fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, but the number of deaths tied to other drugs also is increasing, Tim Feeley, spokesman for the attorney general, said in the statement.

Fentanyl is an often illicitly manufactured opioid pain medication that is many times more lethal than morphine, Feeley said, adding that fentanyl products often are mixed with or presented to the user as heroin.

Sixty-four percent of the 2016 deaths involved illicitly manufactured opioid drugs and 62 percent involved pharmaceutical drugs “alone or in combination with other drugs or alcohol,” the press release states.

“My office is working with law enforcement around the state to stop the trafficking of these drugs in Maine,” Mills said. “As we work to stem the supply, we must also decrease the demand for these drugs. Maine must expand access to detox beds and long-term treatment so that people in the grips of addiction can find hope and live productive lives.”

State leaders have determined a detox center is needed somewhere in the Bangor area and in October awarded Wellspring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, a residential and outpatient services program in Bangor, a Department of Health and Human Services grant for $1.16 million to create a 10-bed “residential social setting detoxification center.” The two-year contract begins in November and runs through July 2018.

There’s only one other detox facility in Maine, Portland’s Milestone Foundation.

Mills said a lot of work still needs to be done.

“With a new Legislature convening soon, we need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to combat this epidemic in a smart, nonpartisan and comprehensive way,” she said.

 

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