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II. Substance Abuse in Maine

Extent of Alcohol and Other Drug Use in Maine

Broad Impact of Alcoholism

Alcohol is so pervasive that we need to rebuild society. Observation from Biddeford Study Circle.11

It’s everywhere. It’s in all of these subtle things. It’s in child neglect, it’s in child abuse, it’s in domestic violence, it’s in depression, it’s in thought disorders, it’s in people who are losing their jobs. It’s in people who can’t keep their marriages, it’s in people who are in legal trouble. It’s in sexual predators. Dr. George L. Higgins, III, Chief of Emergency Medicine, Maine Medical Center12

Alcohol is the unreported story in homicides and accidental deaths in Maine. If, on a daily basis, we put several people in a plane and crashed them into a mountainside because the pilot was drunk, there’d be an outrage. We’d hop right on that problem. But because alcohol-related deaths are spread out geographically and chronologically, we don’t grasp the full dimension of it. We see the boating accident, the car crash, the bitter spouse, the shooting incident, but we miss the booze...It’s hard for us to grasp the fact that something we all do on a regular basis can kill people and cause so much destruction. Administrator of Emergency Trauma Services, Eastern Maine Medical Center.13

This is a major public health crisis for this state. It’s an absolute scourge, a crisis. Dr. David Stuchiner, Director of Emergency Medicine, Central Maine Medical Center.14

The annual cost of substance abuse in Maine is estimated to be $1.2+ billion—$916 for every man, woman, and child in Maine.15 This hidden “tax” on the people of Maine is two-thirds the size of the State’s annual budget. This does not begin to account for the suffering and burden on those whose well-being is affected directly or indirectly by substance abuse. In “The Deadliest Drug: Maineís Addiction to Alcohol,” The Portland Newspapers made the case for the general public that alcohol abuse contributes to every social problem (e.g. unemployment, family violence, crimes against people and property, fires, poor health, and suicide.)

Substance Abuse by Adults

OSA’s 1997 Alcohol and Other Drugs Household Estimates Study estimates that there are 647,000 adults in Maine who use alcohol over the course of a year, including approximately 88,000 heavy alcohol users.16 Among pregnant women, it is estimated that 5.7% are heavy alcohol users, while two-thirds report some alcohol use.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, used by an estimated 94,757 adults. Maine has a higher rate of marijuana use among adults age 18-24, when compared to the rates in the Northeast and the nation. There is a low prevalence of other illicit drug use in Maine, though this is increasing. However, it is likely that this is under-estimated (crack/cocaine and heroin users are not likely to participate in a telephone survey.)17

Substance Abuse by Youth

Aimee drank "obsessively" by age 10, but she began drinking much earlier. Her childhood slipped away in a downward spiral of blackouts and drunken driving.18

Throughout Maine, alcohol and other drugs are used by children and youth at an alarming rate. Substance abuse begins at an early age. In 1997, high school students in Maine reported that 29% had their first drink before age thirteen, 30% had smoked before age thirteen, and 12% had used marijuana before age thirteen. They also reported that19:

  • 51% had at least one drink in the past 30 days, 34% had at least one binge drinking episode (5 or more drinks in a row) during that time frame, and 6% drank on school property.
  • 39% smoked cigarettes during the past 30 days, 18% smoked on school property, 11% bought their own cigarettes, and 8% were not asked for proof of age when buying cigarettes.
  • 51% used marijuana more than once in their life, 30% smoked it within the past 30 days, and 10% smoked it on school property.
  • 20% tried an illegal drug other than marijuana at least once in their life and 41% were offered, sold, or given illegal drugs (including marijuana) on school property during the past year.

Information about the use of alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes by Maine’s 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students indicates that they exceed most regional and national rates.20 For example, in 1995-96:

  • 8th grade students were binge drinking at the same rate as the rest of the nation, while exceeding the rates for the Northeast region. 10th and 12th grade students were drinking at rates 3-5% higher than rates for the Northeast and the nation.
  • With respect to marijuana use, Maine’s 10th and 12th grade students exceeded the rate for the Northeast by 8-9% and the rate for the nation by 12-13%.
  • With respect to cigarettes, Maine’s 8th, 10th, and 12th graders smoke at higher rates than students from the Northeast and the nation (which have the same rate) by 5%, 5%, and 7% respectively. According to a Surveillance Summary by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine is ranked as the fourth highest state having high school students who are frequent smokers (20.4%) and seventh having those who currently use cigarettes (37.8%).

Increases in the rate of youth suicide have been sufficiently alarming that in 1997 Governor King commissioned a task force to study the problem. Adolescents who had attempted suicide unsuccessfully said alcohol and drug use were one of the significant factors contributing to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death of 15 to 24-year olds and the third leading cause of death for 10 to 14-year olds in Maine.

Characteristics of Maine People Receiving OSA Services

OSA gathers information about people served by the agencies it funds (including all substance abuse clients of those agencies whether or not they are supported by OSA funds), people receiving treatment as the result of an Operating-Under-the-Influence conviction, people receiving Medicaid-funded substance abuse services, and people receiving methadone treatment. The OSA data system does not include information from non-Medicaid private practices or from major hospitals (for example, Jackson Brook Institute, Maine Medical Center—other than data about methadone detoxification, and St. Mary’s.)

During fiscal year 1997, the total, unduplicated number of Maine people receiving substance abuse services from OSA was 10,607, including 6% (634) who were admitted as “affected others”. While 52% of the State's population is female21, women accounted for 26.6% of people entering treatment.

Of the people entering treatment, 80.2% reported alcohol as the primary drug abused, 44% reported a secondary drug problem, and 16.8% reported a problem with a third drug. Marijuana/hashish was the primary drug of choice for 13.4% of those admitted to treatment other than emergency shelter/detoxification and for 4.0% of those admitted for detoxification/ emergency shelter.

The average age was 35.2 for persons reporting alcohol or a drug other than alcohol as a primary problem. Of the people entering treatment, 77.7% reported using alcohol before age eighteen, 10.1% were youth under the age of 20, and 34.8% completed less than 12th grade. Over 40% of Maine people receive at least some college education22, compared with only 19.6% of people entering treatment.

At the time of admission, 29.4% of the people were unemployed, of whom 12.9% were not looking for employment. Others described themselves as not in the labor force (34.6%) or being unable to work or get work for physical or psychological reasons (25%). Others described themselves as homemakers (4.3%), students (7.3%), retired (1.2%), and incarcerated (5.4%).

Of the people reporting household incomes, 43% had a yearly income of $7,992 or less. This is less than half the 1995 estimated average per capita income for Maine of $20,105. Of people reporting household incomes, 11.7% reported welfare (Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, town welfare) as their primary source of income and 12.7% reported Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Income as their primary source.

Six out of ten people (60.2%) were involved in the legal system (probation, awaiting trial, incarcerated, driving under the influence). During the 12 months prior to admission, 67.5% were arrested at least once; 37.6% were arrested for substance abuse related offenses; and 44.8% were arrested for Operating-Under-the-Influence.

Of those admitted to detoxification/emergency shelters, 30.9% had a concurrent psychiatric problem, compared with 26.1% of those admitted to other services. During the 12 months prior to admission, 40.1% were treated in a hospital emergency room at least once and 11.8% were treated in a psychiatric hospital. Of those admitted, 65% had a prior treatment episode.

Of those admitted to detoxification/emergency shelter, 57.9% reported self referral to treatment and 11.4% reported being referred by the court/correctional system. For clients in all other service settings, 18.4% referred themselves to treatment; 15% were referred by the court/correctional system; 27.1% were in treatment to fulfill the requirements of the Driver Education and Evaluation Program; and 11.8% were referred by another substance abuse treatment agency.

Substance Abuse and Criminal Behavior

Relationship between Substance Abuse and Criminal Behavior

It’s the first question you ask [when investigating a homicide]: ‘Anyone been drinking?’ The likelihood alcohol is going to be involved is the general rule....Alcohol is the thing that breaks down the last barrier. The drunk knows he’s about to shoot a person, not a pumpkin, but what they lack is a sense of judgment, reason. They lack the ability to say to themselves, ‘You’re about to do something really stupid and life-changing.’ William Stokes, Maine Department of Attorney General23

I’d estimate that 75 to 85 % of all our cases have an overlay of alcohol abuse. Michael Cantara, York County District Attorney24

Alcohol [is] present in 90% of the cases we handle. Everybody worries about street drugs, yet alcohol is the biggest problem we face in this state. It’s rare that the victim, defendant, or both aren’t drinking. Meg Elam, Cumberland County Deputy District Attorney25

Studies have documented the relationship between criminal behavior and substance abuse among both juvenile and adult offenders.26 This also has been observed by professionals involved in the criminal justice system.

Substance Abuse by Juvenile Offenders

Many of Maine's juvenile offenders are substance abusers and need substance abuse treatment. Research has shown that the correlation for criminal conduct and substance abuse ranges from .45 to .60 for adolescents.27

Both nationally and in Maine, studies report that marijuana and alcohol are the most frequently used substances by juvenile offenders.28 Studies also have shown that the cost savings for providing substance abuse treatment to juvenile offenders can be significant compared to the costs of incarceration (up to 16 to 1 in financial savings alone).

OSA provides substance abuse screening and comprehensive assessment for all adolescents committed to the Maine Youth Center. Based on eight years of statistics, the data has shown that substance abuse is clearly a dominant problem for juvenile offenders at the Center:

  • Approximately 90% are involved with alcohol and other drugs.
  • 60-70% have substance abuse issues requiring treatment.
  • Alcohol and marijuana are the primary drugs of choice.
  • 90% of the chronic users are multiple drug users.
  • Over half of the chronic users never have had substance abuse treatment or even been evaluated.

Over the past two years, OSA has screened 1,300 offenders referred by Department of Corrections caseworkers and substance abuse treatment providers. Of the juvenile offenders screened, 72% required further substance abuse intervention; yet, during this same time period, only about 20% of all adolescent offenders were referred for screening.

Statistics show that juvenile offenders have more severe substance abuse problems and require greater amounts of treatment than non-offending adolescents. Between July 1, 1996 and June 30, 1997, substance abuse treatment providers reported on 962 adolescents (338 adolescents were in the juvenile justice system and 624 were not) who received treatment. In every category, juvenile offenders faired worse than their non-offending peers:

  • Juvenile offenders used drugs more frequently. Ten percent used drugs 4 to 6 times per week and 31% used drugs at least once a day, compared to 8% during the week and 17% daily by non-offenders.
  • Only 20.3% of adolescents in the juvenile justice system completed treatment, compared to 43.9% of non-offenders.
  • Offenders required more time in treatment. The average number of treatment hours per offender was 63.7, compared to an average of 42 hours for non-offenders.

Substance Abuse by Adult Offenders

An estimated 68% of Maine’s incarcerated adult offenders will require intervention strategies for substance abuse, with 6% of the inmates likely to be assessed as the most severely addicted. Eighty-seven percent of crimes committed by the most severely addicted inmates are substance abuse related. Fewer than 8% of Maine's state prison population needing substance abuse treatment is receiving such treatment. Yet, studies in California, Illinois, and Missouri have shown that criminal activity of adult offenders is reduced after substance abuse treatment.29

National statistics indicate that 3.5 million adults were sentenced to probation in 1996, 50% of whom previously had been on probation and 30% had served at least one prior period of incarceration. Of the felony population, 31% were convicted of a drug offense. Of adults on probation, 41% were ordered to participate in drug or alcohol treatment as a condition of probation, 38% had orders requiring use of mandated drug testing, and 37% received treatment which included crisis/emergency care, self help groups, counseling, outpatient and inpatient care.

A special report on adult probationers, prepared by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in 1995, revealed that an estimated 47% were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their offenses. The chart below categorizes the offenses and the type of substance used.

Substance Abuse by Adult Probationers at Time of Offenses





Sexual Assault




















Drug Possession








Overview of Substance Abuse Services in Maine

OSA Funding and Services

The State collects $64 million in annual taxes from alcohol, but spends only $7.4 million on OSA’s budget. In 1997, OSA spent $14.3 million in state and federal dollars. State dollars included $742,438 for the Driver Education and Evaluation Program; $5.62 million for prevention, intervention, and treatment services; and $780,000 in Medicaid matching funds. Federal dollars included $4.39 million in substance abuse block grant funding, $1.78 million in Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA) funding, and $886,184 in other federal categorical funding. OSA also received $137,148 from other sources.

Funding Streams

There are at least 19 funding streams which pay for substance abuse services and prevention activities in Maine, only some of which flow through OSA. At least 15 federal funding streams flow from seven federal agencies (U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the National Guard.) Maine’s major funding stream—the General Fund—flows through several state departments that are involved in substance abuse prevention and treatment activities (Departments of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services; Human Services; Education; Corrections; and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, as well as the Maine Arts Commission.) Maine has a major new source of funding—the excise tax on tobacco—that is available for school and community prevention activities. Finally, there are unknown amounts of county, municipal, and private funds that support substance abuse services and prevention activities in Maine.


A great deal of coordination exists among agencies involved with substance abuse services. One example of coordination is pooled funding. Maine began pooling funding for substance abuse prevention projects in 1995 when funds from the Substance Abuse Prevention Block Grant, SDFSCA Governor’s Portion, and Title V of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act were distributed through a collaborative request for proposals (RFP) process coordinated by OSA. In 1996, there was a second round of pooled funding, which also included the Maine Arts Commission. Forty-two programs throughout Maine have received funding for primary prevention projects through this integrated RFP process.

Another example of coordination is the Dirigo Prevention Coalition, a coalition of eight partners and twenty Executive Committee members representing diverse perspectives. Funded by a federal grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Dirigo was created to better coordinate substance abuse prevention efforts and to make accessible what already exists. The partners include OSA, Communities for Children, the Bureau of Health, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine State Health Education Coalition, the Maine Commission on Community Service, and the National Guard.

There also are a number of other cooperative efforts between agencies, including the following:

  • Federal SDFSCA funds are administered by OSA in accordance with a memorandum of understanding with the Maine Department of Education. The Governor’s portion of this funding supports a large percentage of the community based prevention programs in Maine, including funding for law enforcement partnerships which involve substance abuse prevention. Maine is the only state in the nation where the substance abuse agency has the authority over SDFSCA funds. This arrangement allows for the coordination of prevention programs and services. Maine should take pride in this unique arrangement that could be a national model for collaboration.
  • There is a memorandum of understanding between OSA and the Bureau of Health to implement federal Synar requirements, which prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors. OSA also is working with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, Maine Sheriffs’ Association, and Department of Attorney General to spend funds generated by funds on underage tobacco purchases to provide police training through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
  • OSA and the Department of Corrections are working on developing differentiated therapeutic intervention systems for adults and youth involved in the corrections system, developing regional networks of specialized substance abuse treatment providers, refining statewide juvenile offender substance abuse screening, and DARE officer training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. See pages 39-41 for a description of the therapeutic intervention systems and regional networks.

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For questions or comments, please send mail to: Web Administrator

Maine Office of Substance Abuse
#159 State House Station
A.M.H.I. Complex, Marquardt Building
Augusta, ME 04333-0159
Main Office: 207-287-2595
Information and Resource Center: 1-800-499-0027 (In-State Only)or 207-287-8900
Drivers Education and Evaluation Program: 207-287-6400
TTY for all programs: 207-287-4475
Fax: 207-287-8910