From January to June, 258 Mainers died because of a drug overdose.
In the first quarter of 2020, there were 127 overdose deaths in Maine, a 23 percent increase from the last quarter of 2019. Last week, Maine’s attorney general announced that in the second quarter, 132 deaths were caused by drugs—a four percent increase over the previous quarter and a 27 percent increase over the last two quarters of 2019.
A report recently released by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine found that opioids were responsible for 82 percent of those overdose deaths. This includes opioids purchased on the streets as well as those prescribed by a doctor.
Of those deaths, 259 were believed to be accidental, 16 were determined to be suicides and six were undetermined in nature.
The number of deaths attributed to drug overdose statewide has been on a steady increase since 2009 when roughly 150 people died each year. The three-fold increase has strained the state’s ability to provide adequate social services and addiction-related resources in good times, but is more of a challenge when groups are discouraged from gathering, and in-person meetings, which are found to be beneficial to addicts, have moved to an online platform.
Also, the relative isolation caused by the ongoing pandemic, now in its seventh month, is also a contributing factor of drug use among addicts. “It is clear from the data that the increase in deaths from the opioid epidemic can be partially attributed to the increased isolation of living through the pandemic,” said Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey in a statement following the issuance of the report. “The data in this report confirms that the crisis has continued to intensify nationally. It is another reminder that our communities are stronger when we are connected with one another and proactively make efforts to help our neighbors.”
The report was released the same day that drug maker Perdue Pharma, the company behind the prescription painkiller OxyContin, pled guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a $8 billion settlement.
As part of the settlement, the drug company will pay $225 million to the federal government, with part of those funds being set aside to help create programs and pay for treatments to combat the epidemic.
While we applaud the fact that there is finally some accountability on the part of the drug company that placed these drugs on the streets and admittedly paid doctors to increase their distribution, we cannot help but say it is a little too late for the almost 300 Mainers so far this year who’ve paid the price with their lives.
Last week, Attorney General Frey, who is one of many state’s attorneys general who have also filed suit against the family behind the privately-owned Perdu Pharma, said that suit would continue, and additional damages will be sought.
We hope that, if the state is successful, any additional funds recovered will be used to help those who have been affected. It is simply not fair that drug companies are able to shield themselves behind a corporate structure and pay fines with a company’s profits while actual people die each day because of deceptive and predatory practices.