More Mainers died from drug overdoses last month than in nearly every month in 2020, according to a new state report released Thursday.
Forty-five people died of fatal drug overdoses in February. Most of those deaths are confirmed to have been caused by an overdose while two-fifths are suspected drug deaths. The synthetic opioid fentanyl played a role in nearly 80 percent of deaths, according to the report released by the Maine Attorney General’s office.
February’s total is nearly 20 percent lower than the number of drug overdose deaths in January, when 55 Mainers died from overdoses in what was the highest monthly total in a year. Yet February’s total is still higher than all but three months in 2020, the deadliest year on record of Maine’s opioid epidemic as the state saw 502 fatal drug overdoses.
Overdose deaths began trending upward early in the last decade, and 2017 marked the previous deadliest year, with 417 overdose deaths, before 2020. The 2020 figure was more than double the number of overdose deaths seen in 2014, the first year state toxicology reports first recorded deaths due to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is often cut into heroin but is more potent.
Drug deaths have also shot up nationwide over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life, separating people from friends and family, putting many people out of a job and forcing people in recovery from addiction to find new ways to receive support.
Cumberland County saw nine of Maine’s overdose deaths last month, making up the largest share of deaths. Kennebec County saw six deaths while Penobscot and Androscoggin counties saw five each.
More than 70 percent of the people who overdosed in February were male. About half were under the age of 40.