(AUGUSTA, MAINE) Attorney General Janet Mills and Chief Medical Examiner Margaret Greenwald released figures today which disclose that 163 drug induced deaths occurred in Maine in 2012. The number of drug induced deaths has been consistently high for the past 12 years and includes all deaths in which one or more drugs are mentioned on the death certificate as a cause of death or as a significant contributing factor. Most of these deaths reportedly are accidental overdoses.
“Each of these deaths represents a waste of a life, a preventable tragedy,” Attorney General Mills stated. “The destruction of lives by drugs deserves our intensive intervention and society’s full attention. The Affordable Care Act now covers substance abuse disorders and treatment, with federal subsidies for those who cannot afford their insurance premiums. But cuts in MaineCare will leave more of the very poor without coverage for these treatable disorders. We may expect more preventable deaths in the future.”
The Attorney General remarked on the astonishing increase in deaths due to heroin use. Heroin use is on the rise partly because of regulations restricting prescriptions for oxycodone and regulations requiring tamper resistant packaging of prescription opioids. As reported in the New York Times cover story on heroin in New England a few months ago, the price of heroin has made this deadly drug much more accessible to people who can no longer get prescription opioids and to people just getting hooked on drugs. In 2012, 28 people in Maine died as a result of heroin overdose, compared to just seven in 2011.
Attorney General Mills noted that six of the 25 homicides during 2012 were related to illegal drugs. “People are killing each other over these substances.”
Equally disturbing is the fact that 927 babies born in Maine last year began their lives under the influence of illegal drugs—more than twice the number in 2009, a hundred fifty-five more than in 2012, and a dramatic increase from the low of 165 in 2005.
“Each of these babies represents a challenge to Maine’s health care system, Maine’s educational system, Maine’s social services system,” Attorney General Mills said. Each of these children will require comprehensive health care that is now no longer available to many in our state.”
The problem of drug addiction and drug trafficking is a public health crisis requiring treatment and support, preventative services and a greater focus on education and creative criminal justice approaches such as Drug Court and Co-Occurring Disorder Courts.
Mills noted that her office prosecuted approximately 630 felony drug cases in 2013. In Maine the Attorney General’s Office prosecutes most major drug crimes and works closely with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the United States Attorney’s Office to combat the importation of heroin and other dangerous drugs from other jurisdictions.
The drug death data is collected and analyzed each year by Dr. Marcella Sorg, Margaret Chase Smith Center, University of Maine. Dr. Sorg noted that her review of the first 11 months of 2013 data shows that the number of heroin deaths remained high during the year and will likely exceed 2012 levels.
[Attachment: PDF: Sorg Drug Death Update Jan 14 2014 GRAPH]