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Drug Deaths and Heroin Use on the Rise in Maine

Photo, Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Attorney General Janet Mills and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released statistics this week regarding drug use and drug-related deaths in Maine. And the numbers are sobering.

The report reveals that 176 drug induced deaths occurred in Maine in 2013, an increase of 13 deaths over 2012. 105 of those deaths were attributable to pharmaceutical opiods and 34 were attributable to heroin. The number of drug induced deaths has been consistently high over the last 13 years and now exceeds the number of deaths due to crashes on Maine’s highways.

These statistics include all deaths in which one or more drugs are listed on the death certificate as a cause of death or significant contributing factor. Most of these deaths are reportedly accidental overdoses.

“Maine medical and law enforcement communities have made a concerted effort to reduce access to opiods in Maine,” said Mills. “however, the statistics show there is still a major addiction problem in our state. Law enforcement, prosecutors, the medical community and educators must work in concert to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.”

Heroin use is on the rise in Maine, partly because of regulations restricting prescriptions for oxycodone and regulations requiring tamper-resistant packaging of prescription opiods. In 2012, 28 people in Maine died as a result of heroin overdose, compared to just 7 in 2011. That number continued to climb to 34 deaths in 2013.

“My office just obtained convictions in a triple homicide case in which three young Mainers were killed in a drug deal gone bad,” said Mills.’ “Criminals are targeting our state to sell drugs, bringing a shocking level of violence with them. My office is committed to prosecuting these cases, but we also need to focus on reducing the demand for these dangerous drugs.”

She goes on to say that the problem of drug addiction and drug trafficking is a public health crisis requiring treatment and support, preventative services and a great focus on education and creative criminal justice approaches such as Drug Court and Co-Occuring Disorder courts.

The Maine Drug Task Force closed approximately 830 drug cases in 2013. The proportion of cases that year involving prescription drugs fell from 50% of the total in 2012 to 43%, while the proportion of cases involving heroin rose sharply from 7% in 2012 to 20% in 2013. In 2013, cocaine cases (both powder and crack combined) represented approximately 18% of the total.

The Maine Attorney General’s office’s Maine Drug Task Force prosecutes most major drug crimes and works closely with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s office to combat the importation of heroin and other dangerous drugs from other jurisdictions.

The drug death data is collected and analyzed annually by Dr. Marcella Sorg, of the Margaret Chase Smith Center at the University of Maine.

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