Mills Administration Statements on 2020 Third Quarter Drug Overdose Report

January 11, 2021

Governor Janet Mills, Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith, and Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services Jeanne Lambrew issued the following statements in response to the report released today by the Maine Attorney General’s Office on drug overdose deaths in the third quarter of 2020:

“This report is a call to action that underscores the serious challenges Maine faces in stemming the opioid epidemic – challenges that have been made all the more difficult by more lethal drugs infiltrating Maine and by increased isolation resulting from a pandemic that rages all around us,”said Governor Janet Mills. “My Administration will not buckle in our efforts to break the cycle of substance use disorder, and we will work hard with treatment providers, law enforcement, and others to prevent the use of drugs in the first place and bridge the divide to treatment and help for those who need it, especially during these difficult times. Behind every one of these numbers is a person: a son or daughter, a friend or neighbor, a member of our Maine family. Their loss affects us all, and while there is no simple solution to this complex problem, our collective efforts are needed now more than ever.”

“Although overdose deaths decreased slightly in this latest report, the underlying trends remain deeply concerning. While our response efforts over the past two years have saved hundreds of lives, we must adapt our approach to the continued challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the dangerous presence of more powerful, and lethal, opioids in our communities,” said Gordon Smith, the state’s Director of Opioid Response. “Nearly every state in the nation is facing this same crisis. Here in Maine, the OPTIONS initiative is an important step to bring recovery and treatment options to people struggling with drug use. We will work with our partners in the Legislature, government, nonprofits, law enforcement and first responders on further innovative strategies to contain this epidemic and keep Maine people alive.”

“This latest report provides another window into the experiences of Maine people struggling with substance use disorder in the midst of a global pandemic,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “While overdose deaths decreased in the third quarter from the previous quarter, more must be done to contain these lethal drugs in Maine. That’s why Governor Mills, despite these challenging economic times, has proposed significant funding for mental health and substance use disorder prevention and treatment in her budget, including $2 million for the OPTIONS program to connect Maine people with intensive outreach in their communities. As we continue this critical work to save lives, we want Maine people to know that help is always available.”

As announced on Friday with the release of Governor Mills’ budget proposals, the Administration continues to invest in the State’s opioid response and improving mental health services. This includes $2 million to promote the OPTIONS Initiative to dispatch mobile response teams in every Maine county to communities with high rates of drug overdose. A public campaign and new website will launch on Friday to raise awareness of the OPTIONS program, providing information about the dangers of using substances alone, the signs of a suspected overdose, and a new online tool to help match individuals with treatment options in their communities.

Experts and advocates praised the OPTIONS initiative on Friday following the budget release, calling it a critical response to the opioid epidemic:

"The OPTIONS initiative will put behavioral health specialists in our communities to provide outreach to Mainers most at risk of an overdose. These individuals will be offered a pathway to treatment and recovery, but also to harm reduction services if they are not ready for treatment," said Catherine Ryder, CEO of Tri-County Mental Health, which serves Androscoggin, Franklin, northern Cumberland and Oxford counties. "The continued support from the Mills Administration, our relationship with law enforcement and first responders, and our 70-year presence in our communities will pave the way for this initiatives' success."

"The OPTIONS initiative from the Mills Administration offers added resources to increase outreach and services to people at most risk of a fatal overdose, and to partner with first responders and law enforcement to seek to make a difference," said Lorraine Chamberlain, Program Director for Behavioral Health and Integration at Aroostook County Mental Health Center, which also serves Hancock and Washington counties. "The increase in fatal overdoses over the last year has been heart-breaking. OPTIONS is an essential program if we are serious about keeping people alive."

The Governor’s biennial budget proposal additionally includes $5.5 million for 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.