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

03/07/2016 03:41 PM EST
AUGUSTA – 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.

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.

“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. 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.”

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.

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