Drug overdose deaths keep steady pace through first six months of 2017 with 185 deaths recorded through the end of June

September 6, 2017

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Andrew Roth-Wells Date: September 6, 2017 Telephone: (207) 626-8887

Drug overdose deaths keep steady pace through first six months of 2017 with 185 deaths recorded through the end of June

Overdose deaths are slightly less compared to 2016, but fentanyl use continues to rise

AUGUSTA – Maine’s rate of drug overdose deaths is keeping pace with last year. Through the first six months of 2017 the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner recorded 185 deaths attributable to drug overdose, according to Dr. Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center who analyzes overdose deaths for the Office of the Attorney General. Doubled, that would be 370 compared to 376 in 2016, or more than one drug overdose a day.

The number of deaths represents a slight decrease from the 193 overdose deaths in the first half of 2016, which represented a 50% increase over the year before. However, the presence of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs continues to grow. Fentanyl is an illicitly manufactured drug that is many times more lethal than morphine; it caused 61% of the deaths between January and June 2017. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or presented to the user as heroin.

Pharmaceutical opioids caused 30% of the deaths, a slight decrease from last year but still a disturbing factor in these overdose deaths. Prescription opioids and illicit opioids are often found together in a fatal cocktail of drugs.

In a little over a third of opioid deaths the victims received Naloxone: 34% of all drug deaths and 38% of opioid deaths. In 2016 only 25% of all drug deaths received Naloxone. The inability to give Naloxone quickly is the most common reason why it is sometimes ineffective, but these numbers suggest that more and more first responders and families have access to it and are administering it when needed.

Attorney General Janet Mills has distributed Naloxone to nearly 60 law enforcement agencies across the state, starting in June of 2016. Over 2300 doses have been distributed, with 241successful applications.

“The opioid epidemic continues to devastate our communities, both rural and urban, all across Maine,” Attorney General Janet T. Mills noted. “As public officials, first responders, and community leaders we must direct resources to real solutions. We must continue to work together to attack this problem, particularly with treatment, prevention and education. It is the greatest challenge of our time.”

“Using any of these drugs, alone or in combination, is playing with fire,” Mills observed. She called for prescribers to further limit their opiate prescribing practices and for more physicians to become Suboxone prescribers. “The need is great,” Mills stated, “the need is now.”

Attorney General Janet Mills has sponsored a series of public education TV and radio ads and has launched a website, www.doseofrealitymaine.org to share information about the safe handling and disposal of prescription painkillers, which are too often are abused and lead to addiction.

OVERVIEW OF 2017, JANUARY-JUNE OVERDOSE DATA

• Most (79%) drug deaths were caused by two or more drugs. The average cause of death involved 3 drugs. • The vast majority of overdoses (84%) were caused by at least one opioid, including both pharmaceutical and illicit (non-pharmaceutical) opioid drugs. • Fentanyl (and/or its analogs) caused 61% of deaths, alone or in combination with other drugs, up from 52% in 2016.
• Heroin caused 22% of deaths, alone or in combination with other drugs, down from 32% in 2016. • Cocaine or crack caused 18% of deaths, alone or in combination with other drugs, up slightly from 16% in 2016. • Pharmaceutical opioid deaths caused 30% of deaths, alone or in combination with other drugs, down slightly from 33% in 2016.

This six-month analysis was conducted for the Office of the Attorney General by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine, Margaret Chase Smith Center.

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Supporting documents

mid year overdose report 2017