One Person Dies from Drug Overdose Every Day in Maine

One Person Dies from Drug Overdose Every Day in Maine

By Paul Gaita 11/18/16

The state has already surpassed the total number of drug-related deaths from 2015. 

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One Person Dies from Drug Overdose Every Day in Maine

Stark and sobering figures on the toll of the opioid epidemic in Maine were issued by the state Attorney General's office, which found that more people died from drug overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2016 than the total for all of 2015.

From January to September of this year, 286 people died from one or more opioid drugs. This surpassed the statistics for drug overdoses during the same time period a year earlier, when 174 people died from drug overdoses by the third quarter, and even the total number of deaths for the entire calendar year of 2015, which peaked at 272—a record for the state at that time.

The figures present an alarming scenario for state residents, as Attorney General Janet T. Mills noted: "One person a day is dying from a drug overdose in Maine."

Of the 286 deaths, 68% (or 195 individuals) overdosed on at least one illegally manufactured drug including heroin, cocaine or non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, either alone or with alcohol, while 64% (or 182 deaths) were attributed to illegally manufactured opioids including heroin/morphine, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl or an analogue like kratom or U-47700, which was recently added to the federal Schedule I category of the Controlled Substances Act.

The report prompted Maine lawmakers and drug treatment advocates to call for immediate action to stem the tide of opioid deaths. "This just underscores that we have a long way to go," said state Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook), who co-chairs the state's Health and Human Services Committee.

Gattine believes that several bills addressing the epidemic will come before the state legislature when it reconvenes in January 2017. Efforts by Gov. Paul LePage have attempted to stem the tide, including a new detox center in Bangor that will service 700 patients, and a prescribing bill which restricts both the dosage and length of time that opioids can be prescribed to patients with chronic pain.

For some, these efforts are barely scratching the surface of the epidemic. "We're not doing enough," said Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association. "Where is the urgency?"

Smith noted that while the Bangor center has been approved to open, it will not be available for patients for several months. And restricting access to unlimited opioids is helpful, but only to new patients, not those already struggling with an addiction.

The Trump administration's vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also threatens to cut off access to substance abuse treatment programs for many Mainers. Approximately 80,000 Maine residents have ACA insurance, though it's unknown how many use it for substance abuse treatment.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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