Drug overdose deaths decline in 2018, but public health epidemic persists

April 18, 2019

Contact: Marc Malon, (207) 626-8887 [office]

AUGUSTA - In the wake of figures released by his office and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, which showed that drug overdose deaths decreased in 2018, Attorney General Aaron M. Frey says that Maine's opioid crisis continues to be a public health epidemic requiring a comprehensive response from jurisdictions both inside and outside of state and local government.

"While drug overdose deaths slightly decreased in 2018, there was still nearly one death for each day of the year. Also of significant concern is that there is no evidence to suggest that fewer Mainers are suffering from opioid use disorder," said Frey. "Individuals, families, and communities continue to be harmed by this public health epidemic, and work must continue to address this crisis."

The report compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, showed that while the total of 354 drug fatalities during 2018 was lower than the 417 deaths reported in 2017, 80% were caused by opioids, frequently in combination with other drugs or alcohol. At least 89 percent of those deaths were attributed to accidental overdoses.

Fentanyl and its analogs caused 77 percent of all opioid-involved deaths. Cocaine-involved deaths were down just 1 percent from 2017, but were still higher than previous years. Cocaine was a frequent co-intoxicant with opioids. Methamphetamine-involved deaths, while small in number, sharply increased.

Maine is not the only state seeing a reduction in overdoses. The across-the-board reduction in both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical drug deaths suggests broad influences are impacting overdose rates, for example, economic changes, the composition and combination of drugs being trafficked, and regional law enforcement efforts, as well as specific policy changes around opioids. However, the report notes that these reductions may represent a change in the lethality of specific drugs and how they are being used. They do not necessarily represent a reduction in the number of individuals with opioid use disorder.

To read more about Dr. Sorg's findings, the full report is attached.


Supporting documents

2018 Maine Annual Drug Death Report