Drug overdoses rise in Maine

The number of drug overdose deaths in Maine has increased annually to reach a record high in 2016. This past year marked an unprecedented growth in drug related deaths, with the number soaring to 40 percent of all fatalities in the state, accounting for 378 deaths according to the Kennebec Journal.

Other states in New England are experiencing a similar increases in drug overdoses and drug related deaths, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified Maine as having the one of the highest per-capita rates of drug overdose deaths in the nation during 2015, according to data on its website.

The vast majority of drug-related deaths in 2016 were a result of addiction to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, or prescription painkillers. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Often times, it is mixed with, or sold, as heroin, according to the Partnership for Drug Free Kids. While mixing heroin with fentanyl heightens the effect of the drug, it simultaneously heightens the risks of overdosing.

According to the Kennebec Journal, of the 378 reported drug deaths in Maine, 313 were caused by opiods. In 2016, fentanyl caused over half of all drug-related overdoses.

The recent surge in drug overdoses in Maine has led many to ask what the cause of this escalation of drug abuse is. However, the answer may be simple. For drug dealers, Maine has proven to be an extremely profitable place to do business. As the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney explained to the Portland Press Herald, “Maine is being targeted by urban dealers for obvious reasons: A dealer can sell a gram of heroin in Maine for as much as three times what it would bring in New York.”

As a result of Maine’s prosperous illicit drug market, many drug traffickers come to the state from other states in the Northeast in order to sell and make more money. In fact, the Portland Press Herald reported that recent investigations in Maine prove that there is a “concrete link between Maine and the gang-controlled drug operations in the New York City borough of Queens.” Many of these dealers choose to target small towns in Maine, as they often don’t have the resources to thoroughly invest in large-scale trafficking.

Following the devastating number of drug-related deaths, Maine is actively working to lower this statistic and prevent future overdoses. While police departments in Maine focus on eliminating drug trafficking, the government is working to provide treatment for those suffering from drug addiction.

Steve Cotreau, program manager at the Portland Recovery Community Center, explained to the Portland Press Herald that it is often difficult to connect drug addicts with treatment because of the lack of resources available in Maine. In recent years, a number of treatment centers have either cutback their drug services or have closed completely.

Despite these financial cutbacks, however, Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, told the Kennebec Journal about a number of initiatives that the state is working on to expand treatment options. One of these initiatives involves the department directing more money to create treatment slots for medically uninsured Maine residents. Edwards explained that this initiative is the first to involves “medication-assisted treatment, a combination of medication and behavioral health counseling.”