(AUGUSTA) 2014 was the deadliest year on record for Mainers using drugs. An analysis released today by the Maine Office of the Attorney General reveals that 208 people in Maine died in 2014 due to drug overdoses - an 18% increase over the previous year.
These substances range from cocaine to heroin and other opioids. The analysis reveals a shocking increase in the number of deaths due to heroin - jumping from 34 in 2013 to 57 in 2014.
"Not one county, not one community is untouched by this scourge," said Attorney General Janet Mills. "Profit seeking dealers from out-of-state are setting up shop along the I-95 corridor and dealing in every corner of the state. No one is immune from these deaths. The age of those who died range from 18 to 88, and the average age is 43 years old."
Continuing analysis of drug deaths reveals a significant increase in the total number of deaths due to drugs, combined with a sharp increase in both heroin/morphine and fentanyl deaths. It is not always possible to distinguish between heroin and pharmaceutical morphine from the toxicology report, so the analysis includes the scene investigation and the decedent's medical records.
"Maine saw an increase in drug overdose deaths beginning in 2001-2002 and it remained high, largely as a result of pharmaceutical opioid-related deaths," said Marcella Sorg, PhD, of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. "What is remarkable about the numbers in 2014 is a new increase in heroin and fentanyl deaths driving the number of total deaths to an unprecedented level for Maine."
Total drug-induced deaths increased from 176 in 2013 to 208 in 2014, an increase of 18 percent. This increase is largely due to a rise in deaths due to heroin/morphine and deaths due to fentanyl either alone or in combination with other drugs. Alcohol is also involved in about a third of all drug deaths; tranquilizers and antidepressants are frequently involved as well.
Fentanyl-related deaths spiked - jumping from 9 deaths in 2013 to 43 deaths in 2014. Fentanyl is the most potent opioid available - 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Police and prosecutors report that the fentanyl spike is largely due to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl being sold on the streets as a white powder and represented to be heroin.
Deaths due to methadone and oxycodone have remained at previous levels.
"These tragic numbers point to the need for a comprehensive three-pronged approach to substance abuse: education, interdiction and treatment. No single focus will solve the problem," Mills said.
The analysis was done by Marcella Sorg, PhD, of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, in collaboration with the Maine Office of Chief Medical Examiner.