Drug deaths continue to decline, but data raises concerning questions

July 11, 2019

AUGUSTA - In the wake of figures released by his office and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, which show that drug overdose deaths continued to decrease in the first quarter of 2019, Attorney General Aaron M. Frey says that he remains concerned about the opioid use disorder epidemic and the increase in deaths caused by other drugs, notably cocaine.

"The first quarter data shows that most deaths were caused by two or more drugs, and that cocaine-involved deaths have increased. We should expect that as this crisis evolves, patterns will shift and as a society we will have to respond accordingly," said Frey. "I will continue to work in a collaborative manner with Governor Mills, the legislature, and all relevant agencies and community leaders to address this crisis and seek ways to reduce harm, treat substance use disorders, and save lives."

The report compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, showed that while the total of 74 drug fatalities during the first quarter of 2019 was fewer than the 86 deaths reported in the first quarter of 2018, at least 91 percent of those deaths were attributed to accidental overdoses. 80 percent were caused by two or more drugs, and 84 percent were caused by at least one opioid.

Deaths due to fentanyl and its analogs rose in the first quarter, causing 66 percent of all deaths and 79 percent of opioid deaths. Cocaine-involved deaths constituted 31 percent of deaths, up from 25 percent in 2018. The number of deaths involving methamphetamines also increased.

The report notes that quarterly totals have fluctuated over the past several years, with slightly more deaths in the second and third quarters than in the first; thus, the first quarter's total may underestimate the ultimate 2019 total.

Attorney General Frey noted that combatting drug deaths continues to be a priority of the Office of the Attorney General. He is a member of the Governor's Opioid Task Force.

Supporting documents

Drug Death Report: 1st Quarter 2019