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February 8, 2019

New report: Drug overdoses decrease in 2018; more than 80% involved opioids

Courtesy / University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center
Courtesy / University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center
A report compiled by Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center showed that the total of 282 drug fatalities during the first three quarters of 2018 was slightly fewer than the 297 deaths reported in 2017 during the same period.

A new report shows that the number of drug overdose fatalities decreased slightly for the first three quarters of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said the figures released by his office and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner clearly indicate that Maine's opioid crisis is far from resolved.

The report compiled by Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center showed that while the total of 282 drug fatalities during the first three quarters of 2018 was slightly fewer than the 297 deaths reported in 2017 during the same period, at least 89% of those deaths were attributed to accidental overdoses.

Consistent with 2017's numbers, heroin caused 19% of the 2018 deaths in the first three quarters. However, cocaine or crack was on the rise, causing 25% of total deaths, continuing to increase from 16% in 2016 and 22% in 2017.

Additionally most drug deaths — 228, or 81% — were caused by two or more drugs in combination. On average, the cause of death involved three drugs.

The report showed that 82% of overdoses were caused by at least one opioid. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and/or its analogs caused 61% of deaths either alone or in combination with other drugs. Compared to 2017 as a whole, deaths due to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl are slightly more likely to include other drugs, but less likely to include pharmaceutical opioids.

Additionally, there has been an increase in cocaine and methamphetamine deaths, with cocaine increasingly being mixed with fentanyl and heroin.

"Though we obviously welcome the slight reduction, the fact remains that the opioid epidemic is a public health crisis which is tearing apart Maine families and communities," said Frey. "Our office recognizes the urgency of this crisis, and I am committed to working in a collaborative manner with Gov. Janet Mills, the Legislature and all relevant agencies and community leaders to turn this crisis around by finding and implementing real solutions."

Mills launches opioid initiatives

Today's announcement comes just two days after Mills signed an executive order outlining the immediate steps that will be taken by her administration and the state's Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith to prevent overdose deaths, increase treatment and recovery efforts and bolster prevention efforts.

A first step is her authorization of the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services' purchase of 35,000 units of the life-saving, anti-overdose medication naloxone using available federal and state funds and distributing it to health entities across the state.

The order also directs the use of SAMHS funds to train 250 "recovery coaches" and to fund a full-time recovery coach in 10 emergency departments across the state to facilitate the movement of more people into treatment programs.

Both actions, Mills said, can immediately help save lives.

The order also formalizes the creation of the Prevention and Recovery Cabinet that Mills announced two weeks ago.

Other steps include:

  • Develop an "overdose map" using geomapping technology to locate overdose-related hotspots and provide real-time data sharing.
  • Target prevention programs to high-risk areas and school-age children.
  • Re-establish the Prescription Monitoring Program Advisory Council to analyze prescribing trends and communicate those trends to prescribers. The goal would be to improve the training of health care professionals to prevent over-prescribing. The council also would work with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Margaret Chase Smith Center to establish a system whereby prescribers are notified of patients who overdose fatally or are revived.
  • Expand access to affordable, timely care.

DOWNLOAD PDFs

2018 report of drug overdose deaths in Maine

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