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Maine gets more federal help to prosecute those who over-prescribe opioids

The New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force will target physicians, pharmacists, and medical professionals who over-prescribe or illegally prescribe opioids.

CONCORD, N.H. — The U. S Department of Justice is sending more resources to Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to help the three states help combat drug abuse. 

The New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force will target medical staff, physicians, and pharmacists illegally prescribing or overprescribing controlled substances.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department's Criminal Division announced the strike force Wednesday at a press conference in Concord, New Hampshire.

"In the last year, more than 75,000 people in the United States lost their lives due to overdose," Polite said in a release, in part. "Since 2018, some of the greatest spikes in the drug overdose death rate have occurred in New England. The NEPO Strike Force will help to address one of the root causes of the epidemic: unlawful prescription and diversion of opioids. Together with our partners, we will fulfill the department’s solemn promise to deploy critical resources to address the opioid crisis.”

The DOJ will fund four more prosecutors in the region, and eventually invest in more law enforcement officials in the three states, adding to the work already being done to tackle drug abuse, beginning with what's often the start of addiction.

"The majority of individuals who come into the criminal justice system will tell us that their first entrée into illegal drug use was through a prescription, through a work-related injury or maybe an athletic injury," U.S. Attorney for Maine Darcie McElwee said. "They first become introduced into pharmaceuticals and then they tend to become addicted to illegal illicit street drugs."

In 2016, Maine passed a law that limits opioid prescriptions to 7 days for acute pain and 30 days for chronic pain, in an attempt to lower the risk of addiction.

RELATED: Maine families of those struggling with addiction may soon see expanded options

Senator Susan Collins released a statement in response to the DOJ's announcement, saying in part that the strike force "will complement the efforts by the Maine Medical Association and Maine's licensure board, which have done a good job educating doctors in Maine about appropriate best practices for prescribing opioids."

RELATED: CDC releases 'truly staggering' overdose death toll for 2021



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