Fatal drug overdoses climbed 7 percent in 2019 in Maine, but remain below their peak in 2017.
Last year, 380 Mainers died from drug overdoses, up from 354 in 2018, according to a new report the Maine attorney general’s office released Friday morning.
The majority of deaths — 318, or 84 percent — involved at least one opioid alone or in combination with other drugs, alcohol or both, according to the report, compiled by Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine in Orono. On average, deaths involved three or more drugs, it found.
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Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a Friday statement that the new report “confirmed how significant this crisis remains.”
He said it also highlights the importance of strengthening the state’s public health infrastructure to deal with both the opioid epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic.
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Maine has seen a “dramatic” increase in deaths involving non-opioid drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the report.
Deaths from cocaine increased from 90 to 110, or 22 percent, between 2018 and 2019. That’s up from 11 deaths a decade ago. Cocaine also was included as a cause of death in 34 percent of fatal overdoses involving fentanyl and 36 percent involving heroin.
Methamphetamine deaths similarly climbed from 26 to 47, or 81 percent. A decade ago the state saw no fatal overdoses from methamphetamine. It was also listed as a cause of death in combination with 13 percent of fentanyl deaths and 18 percent of heroin deaths, the report found.
Men accounted for two-thirds of 2019’s drug deaths, while all those who died from drug overdoses were over age 18, according to the report.
Of the deaths, 341 were classified as accidental overdoses, 34 suicides and five were undetermined.
More than half — 210 — fatal overdoses happened in Cumberland, Penobscot and York counties. The bulk of the Cumberland County deaths — 100 — occurred in Portland, where 55 people died. Bangor accounted for about half — 28 — of Penobscot County’s 53 deaths, according to the report.
Drug overdose deaths peaked at 417 in 2017.
Gov. Janet Mills said in a Friday statement that she will continue to “put the full force of this Administration behind conquering this disease” and helping affected families and communities.
“This epidemic grew over a long, long time, and it will take a long, long time to defeat it and make our state whole again,” the governor said.
Gordon Smith, who serves as the director of the state’s opioid response, called addiction a “relentless disease” that continues to claim “the lives of too many Maine people.”
“Our devotion to helping Mainers achieve and maintain long-term recovery must be just as relentless,” Smith said in a statement, pledging to continue to strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery efforts across the state.
Jessica Pollard, the director of the Office of Behavioral Health in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said that behind every number is someone’s friend, neighbor and loved one.
“We recognize the lives lost to this disease, the grief that reverberates throughout their families and communities, and the need to continue to adapt our response to support effective prevention, treatment and recovery. We want all Maine people to know that even in the face of this pandemic, help is still available,” Pollard said in a statement.