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.
On April 1, 2014 the Board received a complaint from the husband of a patient alleging his wife had a long history of addiction and that Dr. Houghton continued to prescribe the medications. During the investigation the Board had the records reviewed by an independent outside expert. The reviewer found that the records did not meet the standard of care and noted concerns with specific medications prescribed. In October 2015 Dr. Houghton completed a three day psychopharmacology course at Massachusetts General Psychiatry Academy.
All Board disciplinary actions are reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank and the Federation of State Medical Boards Action Data Bank. These reports are regularly reviewed by every state licensing board in the country.
The Board is made up of 6 physicians, 3 public members, and a physician assistant appointed by the Governor. Disciplinary actions taken by the Board are available to the public either by telephone at (207) 287-3601, or on the Board’s website at www.maine.gov/md.
*Findings and proposed amendment address issues related to the impairment of workers on the job due to use of medical marijuana, opiates, prescription drugs and other legal and illegal substances*
AUGUSTA-The Maine Department of Labor has issued a new report, the 2016 Report on Substance Abuse, Marijuana, Medical Marijuana and the Maine Employer Substance Abuse Testing Law (26 MRSA Subchapter 3-A). This report recommends changes to the current statute with a draft amendment to the department’s bill, LD 1384, An Act To Improve Workplace Safety by Simplifying and Improving Employers’ Substance Abuse Policy Requirements. The report is available online at http://www.maine.gov/labor/labor_stats/research.html under the heading “Other Reports.”
“This report describes the important role employers play in the everyday lives of workers who may have substance abuse problems or are taking prescription drugs or medical marijuana that may cause impairment on the job,” stated Governor Paul R. LePage. “This working group and report is the first of its kind in the nation. The findings address the need to give employers the appropriate tools to retain valuable workers while maintaining the safety of colleagues and clients. These findings could help us bring people with a history of substance abuse issues back into the workplace, earning a living.”
From May through September of 2015, the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards convened a diverse workgroup to gather information on issues relating to substance use and abuse in the workplace, legalization of medical marijuana, the potential statewide legalization of recreational use of marijuana and other matters as they relate to the administration of the Maine Substance Abuse Testing Law. The four-part report, finalized this winter, stems from presentations and discussions of that workgroup and from the review of related studies and reports.
“Maine’s crisis regarding opiate use and addiction underscores the importance of addressing substance use and abuse in daily life, especially the workplace, where safety is an important concern,” stated Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “Other states are looking to Maine’s leadership on addressing these issues.”
Workgroup members were invited from the field of the stakeholders associated with medical marijuana treatment and distribution, workplace substance impairment testing, employer substance abuse testing, state agencies, medical caregivers, labor organizations and groups representing employees and employers as well as individual employees and employers. The workgroup reviewed research on the nature, uses and effects of marijuana and other substances of abuse; the physical, physiological and institutional constraints upon monitoring and controlling their use; and how programs might be designed to fairly and effectively deal with substance impairment in the workplace no matter the source of the impairment.
The Department of Labor, based on the contributions of this workgroup, recommends two fundamental changes to the testing statute to be corrective of behaviors that endanger the individual, coworkers or clients. The first of these changes is to streamline the policy approval process to assure: 1) that substance abuse testing is administered consistently and more efficiently by employers; 2) that the regulatory process is more responsive to changes and trends in substances and practices of abuse; and 3) that the administrative delays, inequities and unnecessary burdens happening under the current law are eliminated.
The second change responds to the evolving nature of substance impairment in the workplace, including new or newly legalized substances of abuse and new trends in how existing substances like opioids and prescription drugs are abused or cause impairment on the job. Under the current law, employers that have approved “probable cause” drug testing policies can test an employee for marijuana and a handful of other substances, but only after they have established probable cause that the employee has taken the drugs. The Department of Labor recommends replacing the probable cause testing provisions with a new program providing training for supervisors and managers to effectively detect employee impairment, regardless of its cause, so they can quickly act to avoid worker injuries.
“Such changes will allow the department to focus less on administering the intricacies of the employer drug testing rules and more on helping employers and employees recognize and respond to substance impairment. The result: workplaces will be safer, more of them will be drug-free and fewer Maine workers will be injured on the job,” stated Commissioner Paquette.
Department staff are available to talk to any group with an interest in the report or the proposed legislation over the next several weeks. The presentation of the report and a work session on the department’s bill, LD 1384 sponsored by Rep. Joel Stetkis, is scheduled for the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. A similar measure from the first session of the 127th, LD 1011 sponsored by Sen. Andre Cushing, would have required such a study; the department agreed that this review would be beneficial and could be undertaken without the need for legislation.
The Bureau of Labor Standards helps workers and businesses make their worksites safer, educates about and enforces wage and hour laws and gathers information on working in Maine. Its Technical Services Division is Maine’s leading resource for data and analysis relating to workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, and it enforces the current workplace drug testing statute and coordinates research projects related to the state’s workplace safety and health.