60% Of Maine Residents Directly Affected By Opiate Crisis, Says Poll

By McCarton Ackerman 07/01/16

A recent poll revealed that six out of 10 Mainers know someone who has either abused opiate painkillers or used heroin in the past five years.  

60% Of Maine Residents Directly Affected By Opiate Crisis, Says Poll

A new poll out of Maine confirms how far the opioid crisis reaches in the state, with six out of 10 residents saying they’ve been personally affected by it.

The poll from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram surveyed 609 registered voters in June. Sixty percent of them said they knew someone who has either abused opiate painkillers or used heroin in the past five years. Assuming the figures reflect the entire state, that means 780,000 of the state’s 1.3 million residents have been directly affected by the opioid crisis, notes the Portland Press Herald.

“People’s opinions definitely change when they are impacted by something,” said Lindsey Smith, a research associate with the Cutler Institute at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. “I’m almost surprised more people didn’t say they were affected by this, because it’s so pervasive.”

Although 81% of poll participants said they found the current drug crisis to be serious, they were more divided about what the primary cause of it is. Twenty-five percent felt the main issue was overprescribing prescription painkillers, followed by drug dealers (21%), the disease of addiction (18%) and moral failings (13%). Higher numbers of participants who identified as Republican believed the issue was a moral failing (20%) than Democrats (7%), while Democrats were more likely to blame the disease of addiction (28% vs. 11%) and overprescribing of painkillers (30% vs. 19%).

“I just don’t think people have enough options for treatment,” said 48-year-old Buffy Morrissette, from the town of Poland. “This is a disease and Gov. [Paul] LePage and others are treating it like a crime.”

There were a record-high 272 drug overdose deaths in the state last year, with 107 attributed to heroin (compared to just four in 2011). All but four of last year’s overdose deaths were attributed to either heroin, fentanyl or pharmaceutical opiates. 

Gov. Paul LePage attempted to address the problem by signing a bipartisan bill last December to split $4.8 million in new funding between drug enforcement and treatment, says the Press Herald. He was against expanding naloxone access but the Maine legislature voted to override his veto of the law in April. His efforts to crack down on drug dealers has drawn criticism that the governor is treating the issue as a criminal one.

“The evidence supports that expanding MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is the best thing we can do, but it’s not happening and, even when it is, people can’t afford it without insurance,” Smith told the Press Herald. “We should be approaching the drug crisis as a public health crisis. There is no way we have the resources to handle the problem right now.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.