Mills Administration Commends Enhanced Reporting of Drug Overdose Data

February 18, 2021

Monthly reports on fatal and non-fatal overdoses from the Office of Attorney General will inform state and local strategies to save the lives of Maine people

The Mills Administration today commended the Maine Office of the Attorney General’s release of new monthly reports on fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in Maine that will inform critical response strategies by treatment providers, first responders, health care providers and law enforcement to help save the lives of Maine people.

These more detailed monthly updates will replace quarterly assessments and fulfill a goal of the State’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan, which calls for more timely and transparent data in order to identify trends and allocate resources faster in response to drug overdoses.

The new monthly reports also include non-fatal overdoses, ensuring greater attention on Maine people and communities at high-risk of drug overdoses, and accelerating efforts to assist them in seeking substance use treatment, counseling or pursuing other harm reduction strategies.

“This new, more comprehensive data will be a powerful tool that we and others can use to help Maine people,” said Governor Janet Mills. “With these deeper insights, the State and Maine’s substance use counselors, hospitals, first responders and law enforcement can better and more adeptly respond to the scourge of opioid addiction in our communities. I commend Attorney General Aaron Frey for leading this initiative, the timing of which could not be more important given the disturbing increase in overdose deaths during the pandemic. Our Administration will continue to bring to bear every resource we can to prevent drug use to begin with and to help those who are fighting substance use disorder.”

“By increasing our understanding of what is happening with overdoses in Maine and sharing this data broadly with frontline responders and the public, we can help keep individuals struggling with substance use alive,” said Gordon Smith, the state’s Director of Opioid Response. “The opioid crisis in Maine is often changing, and now we will have access to more complete and timely data to shift our response to meet these changes.”

“More timely and detailed data on drug overdoses will help the State and all of our partners in communities throughout Maine to save lives from substance use disorder,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “As we pause each month to acknowledge these individuals who are struggling and to ensure our efforts are reaching them, we want all Maine people to know that help is always available.”

Like many other states, Maine has seen a sharp rise in overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first monthly report for January 2021 found 58 Maine people died of confirmed or suspected overdoses during the month, which is attributed to increased availability of lethal opioids, predominantly the powerful painkiller fentanyl, which was found to be present in nearly 70 percent of confirmed overdose deaths in January.

The monthly report released today estimates that 503 people in Maine died from drug overdoses in 2020, which represents a 25 percent increase from 2019. These tragic figures in Maine are reflected nationally; in December 2020, the U.S. CDC reported 81,000 drug overdose deaths from June 2019 through May 2020, the largest number recorded in the U.S. over a 12-month period.

These trends further underscore the urgent need to advance data-driven approaches and policies to the ongoing opioid crisis in Maine. Going forward, these monthly reports will be available on a new website, mainedrugdata.com, which will grow to include new data sets to inform opioid response efforts on the state and local level.

“The City of Bangor is proud to distribute naloxone in partnership with the state. For every fatal overdose, there are dozens of individuals saved with naloxone,” said Patty Hamilton APRN, Director of Public Health for the City of Bangor. “Having the data associated with the non-fatal overdoses will give us a chance to provide services to the individuals saved who are at high risk of being the next fatal overdose. This increased transparency on a timely basis will help save lives.”

“Maine’s recovery community is robust, but our collective hearts break with every overdose death that might have been prevented,” said Ronald Springel, M.D., Program Manager for the Maine Association of Recovery Residences. “Sharing this important data monthly of both non-fatal and fatal overdoses gives us a chance to reach out to help those who have survived but are at high risk of a subsequent overdose.”

“The more timely release of overdose data, both fatal and non-fatal, will help to save lives and better inform Mainers of the devastating impact that this epidemic is having on our neighbors, our community, and our whole state,” said Courtney Allen, Policy Director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project.

The new monthly data will also inform strategies for the state’s new OPTIONS program, which is placing mobile response teams in each Maine county to engage communities with high rates of drug overdoses to promote drug prevention and harm reduction strategies, connect people directly to recovery services and treatment, and distribute naloxone, the lifesaving overdose medication. More about the OPTIONS program can be found on its website, knowyouroptions.me.

The OPTIONS program focuses on populations at high risk of overdose, such as those experiencing homelessness, those who have left treatment programs, and those recently released from incarceration. Special efforts will also be made to serve survivors of prior drug overdoses, as leading addiction research indicates that assertive outreach and post-overdose engagement leads to sustained connections to recovery and reduced risk of subsequent overdoses.

“The availability of fatal and non-fatal overdose data on a more timely basis will provide our OPTIONS liaison important demographic data to improve her opportunity to provide potentially life-saving interventions to our local residents struggling with substance use disorders,” said Augusta Chief of Police Jared Mills.

Following an extensive review, the state’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan has also been updated this year with new recommendations (PDF) in light of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial plan was unveiled in September 2019. Since then, the State has taken several significant steps to address the opioid crisis, including:

Purchasing and distributing nearly 56,000 doses of naloxone through public health and harm reduction organizations, which helped reverse 1,136 opioid overdoses from January – November 2020;

Recruiting and training 534 new recovery coaches;

Increasing the availability of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to incarcerated individuals in Maine and connecting them to community providers upon release;

Increasing the number of Recovery Residences from 101 to 120, and the number of Recovery Community Centers from 9 to 13, with two others now planned for York County and the community of Lincoln.

The Mills Administration continues to invest in the State’s opioid response and mental health services to support initiatives like OPTIONS and adopt recommendations from the strategic plan to help Maine people with substance use disorder and save lives.

The Governor’s biennial budget proposal includes an additional $7.5 million for community mental health and substance use disorder services, including crisis services in Cumberland County, helping individuals get appropriate treatment in the community; MaineCare coverage for mental health intensive outpatient treatment; and a Justice and Health team of intensive case managers around the state who help prevent incarceration.

For information about substance use disorder support and resources, call 211, text your zip code to 898-211, email info@211Maine.org, visit the Maine 211 website, or visit the DHHS Office of Behavioral Health’s resource page.