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  • 272 People died of a drug overdose in Maine in 2015 – 31 percent jump

    Maine has recorded another grim record due to drug overdose deaths.  272 people died in Maine in 2015 due to drug overdose, a 31% increase over 2014, which saw a record 208 overdose deaths.  The final analysis of drug overdose deaths exceeded initial estimates largely due to an increase in deaths caused by heroin and/or fentanyl in the second half of the year. 

    “These figures are shocking,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills.  “Maine averaged more than five drug deaths per week.  That is five families every week losing a loved one to drugs.  These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our neighbors, our friends.  I applaud the families who have come forward to share their stories about the struggles they have endured in watching a loved one succumb to addiction and the pain it has caused."

    In 2015, 157 deaths were caused by heroin and/or non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and 111 were caused by pharmaceutical opioids.  Overdose deaths in 2015 caused by illicit drugs exceeded overdose deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids for the first time, even though the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical opioids increased slightly as well.  Nearly all deaths were in combination with other intoxicants.

    "Behind every one of these deaths is a story that must be told as a warning to anyone who thinks opiates are a harmless party drug with no consequences. No one is immune from addiction.  No one is immune from overdose. No one is immune from death.  We must use every effort to intervene in these people’s lives before it is too late,” said Attorney General Mills. 

    Two-thirds of the decedents in 2015 from a drug overdose were men.  The ages of decedents ranged from 18 to 89, though most deaths were of those under the age of 60.  The average age of a decedent was 42 (the average age of a Maine resident is 43).

    While all counties recorded at least one overdose death, approximately 78% of the overdose deaths occurred in Maine’s five most populous counties, which account for 65% of Maine’s population.  Cumberland County recorded 32% (86) of the statewide total.  The City of Portland recorded 46 deaths, followed by Lewiston with 15 deaths and Bangor with 13 deaths.

    Comparing the 2014 and 2015 death rate per 100,000 of population for the five largest counties, Cumberland County's rate increased from 15.3 to 30.5, an increase of 100%, Kennebec County increased 65%, Penobscot County increased 30%, Androscoggin County increased 4%, and York County increased 3%. 

    In 2015 there were 107 deaths attributable to heroin; 94 of which included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  Of the 87 deaths attributable to fentanyl or acetyl fentanyl, 68 included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  There were 34 deaths in which cocaine was involved in 2015, up from 24 in 2014.

    “These death statistics are just one measure of Maine’s drug crisis,” said Attorney General Mills.  “More must be done to preserve lives and protect our communities from the negative effects that drug abuse has on us. Prevention, intervention, treatment and law enforcement all must play larger roles in stemming this deadly tide.”

     

    The drug overdose death analysis was conducted for the Attorney General, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Marcella Sorg, PhD, D-ABFA of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. 

  • Rep. Warren calls for oversight of Maine’s secretive “fusion center”- assigned to take on drug abuse

     Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, is introducing a bill to address concerns about the use of the secretive Maine Information and Analysis Center in the state’s battle against drug abuse and trafficking.

    At Gov. Paul LePage’s closed-door drug summit in August, his administration announced that MIAC, one of some 80 so-called “fusion centers” in the country, will be used to counter the state’s drug problems by analyzing drug activity and trends and sharing the information with other law enforcement agencies.  

    Fusion centers were created to combat terrorism after 9/11. Maine’s fusion center, which is overseen by Maine State Police, appears to have no legislative oversight and details about its staffing and budget are not available.

    “We all want to stop drug addiction and at the same time, be mindful of privacy rights of the Maine people,” said Warren.  “I had never heard of MIAC, or the ‘fusion center’ as it’s called. In doing some research, I found little or no information on the group’s authority and oversight.”

    In response, Warren submitted legislation for the upcoming session to empower the governing board to balance the enforcement goals with the rights of people they are investigating. 

    “The board charged with overseeing the center hasn’t met in years because when they have, there is little information given to them,” said Warren. “The people of the State of Maine have the right to know how their government is working for them.”

    Nationally, fusion centers have come under fire for the misuse of funding, privacy violations and targeting groups critical of their mission.

    “My hope is that the oversight board can simply do its job and that find all to be in working order,” said Warren. 

    The 10-member Legislative Council must approve any new bills for the second session of the legislature, which is typically reserved for top priority or emergency measures.  

    Warren is serving her first term in the Maine House and is a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety and the Judiciary Committees.