These photos show Garrett Brown as a child. Brown died of a heroin overdose in Augusta in 2015 at age 21.  Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Twenty-seven percent more people died of drug overdoses during the first half of 2020 than the last two quarters of 2019, according to data released by the Maine attorney general’s office on Wednesday. 

Hardest hit was Penobscot County, which had 17 percent of the overdoses but holds 11 percent of Maine’s population.

The high number of fatal overdoses in the first two quarters — a total of 258 — continues to be driven by the potent opioid fentanyl and other drugs designed to mimic the effects of fentanyl. The COVID-19 pandemic is also likely playing a role, prompting people who use drugs to isolate themselves and avoid medical services, and drug dealers to alter the illicit drug supply, according to the report by Marcella Sorg at the University of Maine.

Here are three takeaways from the report, which show how an increase in the combination of drugs has proven deadly for many:

— Most drug deaths were caused by two or more drugs. The average cause of death involved three drugs.

— About half of illicit opioid deaths involved the stimulants cocaine and/or methamphetamine.

— Fentanyl and/or fentanyl analogs, which are usually designed in a clandestine laboratory to be chemically similar to fentanyl, caused 65 percent of deaths, usually in combination with other drugs.

Correction: This piece has been corrected to compare the drug deaths in the first half of 2020 to the last two quarters of 2019.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.