BANGOR – A new report shows drug-related deaths are on the rise in Maine.
The report, released this week by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, shows 380 Mainers died due to drugs from January to September of 2020. That’s the same number of drug-related deaths in all of 2019, and the number for 2020 is expected to grow.
“We are likely to be around 500 for the year,” said Dr. Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, who co-authored the report.
Dr. Sorg has been working on these types of reports for about two decades.
She said this report doesn’t necessarily show an increase in the number of people using drugs, but rather, it shows the types of drugs being used, like fentanyl, are much more lethal.
In fact, the report shows fentanyl was involved in 65% of the 380 deaths in the first three quarters of 2020, usually in combination with stimulants like cocaine and meth.
“Users are not always aware of what they’re taking,” Sorg said. “It is not necessarily a choice that people are making to take stimulants with fentanyl.”
It’s a trend also noticed by officials at Bangor Public Health.
“So what we’re advising is that if there’s an overdose situation, always give Naloxone, which is the opioid overdose reversal drug, even if you don’t believe that you’ve taken an opioid, because many times what we’re finding is that there’s a contamination across substances,” said Robin Carr, substance use prevention coordinator at Bangor Public Health.
While the report shows a higher number of deaths in more populated areas, like 74 in the first nine months of 2020 in Penobscot County, Sorg said the problem is widespread.
“Rural areas of the state have been tremendously impacted, particularly Washington County,” Sorg said. “None of the counties are immune from this.”
Despite the pandemic playing a role in drug use and access to resources, both Sorg and Carr agreed that the state still made progress fighting the drug crisis in 2020.
“The increase in being able to deal with this, the increase in harm reduction and increase to treatment, that has improved the situation,” Sorg said.
“I think in addition to all of that, we need the support of the community at large, and I think we all have a role to play in that and the language that we use and the way we talk about this issue and the way we care about each other in our community,” Carr said. “That takes everyone.”
More information about substance use prevention from Bangor Public Health can be found HERE.
Health Equity Alliance also provides harm reduction services in the Bangor area. A link to their website and resources can be found HERE.