Dramatization in a play of a police officer being too agressive towards a homeless drug addict. Photo by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
A preliminary analysis of drug deaths in Maine occurring in the first half of 2015 has shown that deaths related to heroin and fentanyl continue to climb, while the overall number of drug overdose deaths is on track to be similar to 2014 – which was the worst year on record.
In the first half of 2015 the number of people who died from a drug overdose in Maine stands at 105. Of that figure, 37 deaths were primarily attributable to heroin and 26 primarily to fentanyl, according to an analysis of case files conducted for the Office of the Attorney General by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In all of 2014, 208 people died of overdoses, 57 primarily attributable to heroin and 43 primarily attributable to fentanyl.
“These numbers are terribly distressing,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “The first six months of 2015 show that this crisis continues unabated and we – everyone in the state of Maine – still have a great deal of work to do to get this under control. We need to address this crisis from all angles: education, prevention, treatment and interdiction.”
Two caveats underscore these statistics: Based on experience in past years, the actual total for a year can vary about 15 percent up or down from twice the amount of the half-year mark. Also, most toxicology reports reveal that the decedent’s blood contained numerous substances – cocaine, alcohol, fentanyl, heroin and other opioids or over-the-counter medications. One death can be caused by multiple substances.
“It cannot be stressed enough – You do not take heroin, it takes you,” said Attorney General Mills.
Governor LePage is convening a drug summit the week of August 24th. But, noticeably absent from the summit is any real focus on treatment and almost no one who works directly with addicts, or even recovering addicts themselves, have been invited.
In the last four years, the number of drug arrests related to heroin has quadrupled--yet despite increased arrests, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin and morphine have increased 800 percent.
"To tackle this drug crisis in any meaningful way, requires more than a one-pronged approach. One that addresses the supply side--ridding our streets of drug dealers--and, then the other side of the equation--treating people who are addicted to these drugs--which is the demand side. If nothing else, it’s basic economics. It’s all about stopping the flow by stopping the demand. As long as addicts need the product, there will always be drug dealers who step up to provide the supply.
"While the number of Mainers seeking help for their addiction swells, Maine is failing to keep up with the demand for drug treatment. Doors to treatment and recovery centers in Maine keep closing. Just this year, Governor LePage attempted to defund drug treatment programs such as methadone treatment; and recently Mercy Hospital’s addiction recovery center in Westbrook closed its doors. The treatment programs that do still exist are reporting long wait lists for patients who want help.
"If we are truly committed to defeating this scourge, it will take more than throwing out-of-state dealers in jail. We need to increase our commitment to treatment and support Mainers toward a successful recovery--and arrest those criminals who are feeding their habit.
"As the Governor gathers folks at his drug summit next week, I for one will encourage that our state move away from his overly simplistic and outdated view of addiction--and, instead, push the discussion in a more thoughtful and comprehensive direction," stated State Senator Stan Gerzofsky, in a radio address. Gerzosky of Brunswick chairs the Criminal/Justice Committee in Augusta.
If you or someone you know needs help getting treatment, dial: 211