STATEWIDE – Maine is one of the hardest hit states when it comes to drug overdose deaths, and what is killing Mainers has changed over the last 20 years.
According to reports by Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, who is a drug analyst for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, in 1997, Maine saw 34 overdose deaths.
Three years later, the number had nearly doubled at 60, the following year there were 90 drug-induced deaths.
“In 2001, you can see it’s starting to go up,” Sorg said by phone. “In 2002, there was this big spike.”
That’s when 162 Mainers died. Mostly by combining drugs or drugs and alcohol, Sorg said.
Between 1997 and 2002, heroin was a contributing factor in 20 percent of the deaths, followed by pill form methadone at 18 percent, alcohol at 15 percent, oxycodone at 7 percent and cocaine at 5 percent.
Between 2002 and 2009, three drugs emerged as killers — all prescription pain pills.
“Oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone are the big players,” Sorg said.
By 2012, the deadliest drugs were oxycodone, benzodiazepine, a sedative often used to treat anxiety, and methadone. At that point, heroin accounted for only 4 percent of the deaths, but that jumped to 17 percent the following year.
“Heroin had gone down in the 2000s, but then heroin started coming back first and then fentanyl, the surge in fentanyl of 2012 followed just after that,” Sorg said.
2012 also is when the U.S. began to see the importation of illicitly produced fentanyl.
Over the last six years, “Fentanyl moved in with heroin and frequently we receive heroin and fentanyl combined,” Sorg said. “Then we see a lot more fentanyl by itself and the surge in heroin has gone down.”
More recently cocaine and methamphetamines — or stimulants — have been seen.
The most recent 2018 data is expected sometime within the next week.