AUGUSTA, Maine — In 2018, the number of people who died of drug overdoses in Maine was down 15% from the previous year. While that sounds like good news for the state, there were 354 people who died of drug overdoses in 2018. Gordon Smith, Maine Director of Opioid Response, says that number is "still alarming."
According to the report from the Attorney General's Office released on April 18, 417 people died in 2017 and that number decreased by 63 deaths in 2018. Of the 354 deaths in 2018, the report says 80% were caused by opioids, often in combination with other drugs or alcohol.
Maine is not the only state seeing a reduction in overdose deaths and the report credits economic changes, law enforcement efforts and policy changes regarding opioids for the falling numbers.
Non-pharmaceutical opioid deaths, including fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and heroin, have declined by 18% in Maine. Pharmaceutical opioid deaths, predominantly oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, declined by 37%.
The Attorney General Office points out that while these numbers are moving in the right direction, the report does not necessarily mean that opioid use is down but rather patterns of use may be changing.
For example, Maine has seen an increase in the number of deaths involving cocaine over the past several years and a small, but dramatic increase in 2018 in the number of deaths caused by methamphetamines.
Heroin deaths have decreased, but the statistics on arrests by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency suggest heroin availability has not decreased.
“It is welcome news that the number of people losing their lives to drug overdoses has decreased, but the opioid epidemic still presents a serious public health threat to our state,” said Governor Mills.
Mills says her administration will continue work to combat the drug crisis in Maine. "We will not rest in our determination to end this epidemic,” Mills said.
The report was compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.