Attorney General Janet T. Mills Releases 1st Quarter 2018 Drug Death Report

June 1, 2018

AUGUSTA – With 86 drug fatalities reported by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner through the first ninety days of 2018 Attorney General Janet T. Mills is renewing her call to action for a comprehensive approach to combat the opioid crisis.

“We must break the stranglehold that opioid use has on our state,” said Attorney General Janet Mills. “The figures released today demonstrate dramatically that we have not yet turned the tide against opioids and there is still much work to be done. Treatment, education and prevention must be the center of our focus as we come together as a community to address this scourge. The Legislature can still act to make a difference on these issues.”

The figures released by the Attorney General and the Chief Medical Examiner were compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. The first quarter figures show that while drug fatalities for the period are similar to the number for the same period of the prior year, the proportion of deaths involving fentanyl increased. The first quarter of 2017 saw 89 drug overdose deaths, compared to 86 in the same period of 2018. In all of 2017 there were 418 drug induced deaths.

The proportion of deaths in 2018 is increasingly due to illicit drugs, especially fentanyl, as opposed to pharmaceutical opioids. In the first quarter of 2018 65% of drug deaths were caused by non-pharmaceutical fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, up from 52% in all of 2016 and 59% in all of 2017. At the same time, pharmaceutical opioid deaths were 20% of the total for the first quarter of 2018 compared to 33% in all of 2016 and 30% in all of 2017. Deaths involving pharmaceutical drugs of all kinds also decreased from 61% of the total in all of 2017 to 49% of the total for the first quarter of this year.

The proportion of deaths due to heroin continues on a downward trend. In the first quarter of 2018 there were 14 deaths due to heroin alone or in combination with other drugs, representing 16% of the all drug deaths, lower than 2017, when heroin deaths comprised 21% of the yearly total.

There were 19 deaths induced by fentanyl analogs in the first three months of 2018, including one involving carfentanil – an analog that is five-thousand times more potent than heroin.

“The shift we are seeing from heroin to cheap, deadly fentanyl is deeply troubling,” said Attorney General Mills. “Some of these fentanyl analogs are so dangerous simply touching the powder or accidently inhaling its dust can be fatal. There is no way for a heroin user to tell if their supply has been cut given the similar texture and appearance of fentanyl to heroin, and unfortunately for the user, it is often lethal. We need to increase treatment, prevention and education to reverse the course of this epidemic. The alternative is unacceptable.”

Dr. Sorg’s 2018 first quarter analysis can be read here.

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86 drug fatalities in first ninety days of 2018 are only slightly fewer than the same period last year

Supporting documents

Q1 2018 Drug Deaths