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Drug overdoses up 4% from last year, new report shows

The Maine Drug Death Report shows 277 deaths were drug related; AG Frey ‘remains concerned.’

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Drug Death Report, funded by the Maine office of the Attorney General, summarizes drug fatality statistics in Maine between January and September, 2019. According to the report, there were 277 drug overdoses in the first through third quarters of 2019, forecasting the total to be 369—4 percent higher than 2018.

“I am concerned that the number of deaths resulting from overdoses remains high,” Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said in a statement. “The data in this report confirms how significant this crisis is. It will take dedication from elected officials, individuals, organizations, and communities across the state to get to the other side of this, and I am strongly supportive of the efforts underway to turn the tide.”

The report, compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, says 89 percent of the deaths were from accidental overdoses, 10 percent were suicides, and 1 percent had undetermined manner of deaths.

Credit: The Office of Chief Medical Examiner

Patterns show that 277 of the deaths were caused by illicit drugs, including non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine. The vast majority, 233 or 84 percent, were caused by at least one opioid.

Gordon Smith, the Governor's director of Opioid Response, said they anticipated the numbers would be up a little but are still "very disappointed" in the report findings.

"One death is too many," Smith said. 

Smith said as a response to the report and disappointment of the opioid response team, they plan to sit with a group of experts to see what can be learned from some of the overdose cases. 

In a statement Thursday, Speaker of the House Sara Gideon called the news of the report "absolutely devastating." 

"This data represents more than numbers - it represents our family, our friends, our neighbors," Gideon said. "...we should be doing everything in our power to save every life possible. And while we have made significant progress with the establishment of the Office of Opioid Response and initiatives to increase treatment options, today's news is a reminder that we need to recommit ourselves to solving this crisis."

Attorney General Frey, who is a member of the Governor’s Opioid Task Force, said combatting drug deaths continues to be a top priority for him and the Office of the Attorney General.

Read the full report here.

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