AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Despite the record number of drug overdose deaths in Maine, and continuing problems with heroin here and in other states, the director of the federal government’s National Center for Substance Abuse Treatment says some progress is being made.

Dr. Kim Johnson, who headed Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse during the late 1990s and early 2000s, spoke to a conference on “co-occurring disorders” in Augusta on Wednesday.

Johnson said alcohol abuse has declined nationally, and there appears to be less misuse of prescription drugs by juveniles. At the same time, she said, the heroin problem has gotten worse around the country.

She said understanding the frequent connection between opiate addiction and mental illness can help with treatment for those already hooked on drugs, and maybe help to avoid addiction for others.

But while states deal with treatment issues and law enforcement, Johnson said they must also do more to prevent people from becoming addicted. The key to that, she said, is reducing the number of drug prescriptions.

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“We can’t reduce prescribing, can’t just panic and pull the medications from all the people that have pain and are on medications,” said Johnson. “You have to do a better job addressing pain in other ways.”

Maine has been a leader in the effort to reduce the number of opioid pills being prescribed, and Johnson said the national CDC also issued, new guidelines last year.

The other issue affecting states and communities, she said, is the high number of drug overdose deaths. Johnson said the states and the federal government must find ways to reduce the OD deaths.