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The number of overdose deaths in Maine last year was on track to increase over 2018’s number, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, after a one-year decline.
There were 277 drug overdose deaths in the first months of 2019, according to a report the chief medical examiner’s officer released Thursday, putting the state on track to record 369 overdose deaths for all of 2019.
That number would be a 4 percent increase over the number of overdose deaths in 2018, when 354 Mainers died from drug overdoses.
The number of drug overdose deaths in Maine increased steadily from 2011 to 2017 before dropping in 2018.
Most overdose deaths in the first three quarters of last year were caused by illicit drugs, and a vast majority of overdoses involved at least two drugs.
Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl — alone or in combination with other drugs — caused 68 percent of deaths. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is usually prescribed for severe pain but is sold illegally for its heroin-like effect, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s often cut into doses of heroin — users are generally unaware — and is 50 times more potent than heroin.
“The data in this report confirms how significant this crisis is,” said Attorney General Aaron Frey, who oversees the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. “It will take dedication from elected officials, individuals, organizations and communities across the state to get to the other side of this, and I am strongly supportive of the efforts underway to turn the tide.”