Mills Administration Statement on Drug Overdose Death Report

Governor Mills signs emergency legislation establishing Accidental Drug Overdose Death Review Panel

Governor Janet Mills, Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith, and Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services Jeanne Lambrew responded today to the report released by the Maine Attorney General’s Office on drug overdose deaths in 2020. The annual report showed that 504 deaths were caused by drugs in 2020, which is a 33% increase over 380 in 2019. 336 of those deaths were due to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, a 30% increase over 2019.

The Governor yesterday also signed into law emergency legislation establishing an Accidental Drug Overdose Death Review Panel. The new law comes after the Office of the Maine Attorney General released its annual report of drug overdose fatalities, showing that 2020 was the deadliest year on record for drug overdoses.

The legislation, submitted by the Mills Administration and approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature, creates an accidental drug overdose death panel within the Office of the Attorney General charged with reviewing a subset of overdose deaths in order to learn from the circumstances surrounding the deaths and adjust policies when needed, with the goal of reducing more overdose deaths.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult in many ways, and this is yet another example of how it has hurt our state and our people. My heart breaks for every single life lost to a drug overdose. Those we lost are friends, loved ones and community members — people with meaningful lives,” said Governor Janet Mills. “As we reflect upon those we lost, let us honor their lives by rededicating ourselves to ending the scourge of substance disorder and overdose deaths in our state, preventing addiction in the first place, and expanding access to treatment and recovery options. With this new panel, we can learn a great deal more, adapt policies in an agile manner to meet this ever-changing threat, and save the lives of Maine people.”

"We remain committed to doing everything we can to help Maine people with substance use disorder access treatment, and most important, keep them alive," said Gordon Smith, the state’s Director of Opioid Response. "The OPTIONS initiative is now connecting with Maine people in 14 counties to help prevent overdoses and encourage recovery. The new overdose review panel created by Governor Mills, and new data available from the Office of the Attorney General and the University of Maine, will offer greater insight into the opioid epidemic and how we should respond. As we continue to fight this epidemic, which is more lethal than ever due to powerful drugs like fentanyl and the number of people using alone, we will use every avenue available to support all Maine people, families and communities affected by it."

“People in Maine and across the nation continue to battle substance use disorders as they grapple with the added pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “This time of exceptional challenges has put the safety of Maine children and families at risk and reverberated through our communities and our state as a whole. We are committed to doing more to save lives and promote pathways to recovery. This is why in addition to OPTIONS, we’re bolstering StrengthenME, a comprehensive initiative to help anyone experiencing stress due to the pandemic through free resources, tools and community connections. We want Maine people to know that help is always available.”

The legislation comes after the Mills Administration also updated the state’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan with new recommendations (PDF) in light of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The State has taken other significant steps to address the opioid crisis, including:

  • Launching the 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.
  • As of May 1, 2021, purchasing 168,767 doses and distributing 89,336 doses of naloxone through public health and harm reduction organizations, which helped reverse 2,217 reported opioid overdoses;
  • Recruiting and training more than 530 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 the town of Lincoln and the city of Ellsworth.

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

This includes DHHS’ work to transform the system of services for people with SUD and behavioral health challenges, including through nearly $86 million in proposed investments currently before the Maine Legislature as part of the Governor’s Part 2 Budget, to support prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, all levels of treatment, crisis care, and recovery assistance.

Through StrengthenME, DHHS is collaborating with a coalition of community organizations and agencies to offer free stress management, wellness and resiliency resources to anyone experiencing emotional challenges in response to the pandemic. If you or someone you know is looking for support, call (207) 221-8198, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.StrengthenME is free, confidential, anonymous, and available to anyone in Maine.

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