Editorial: Equally devastating  



Every day for the last year, the Maine Center for Disease Control has released data about virus conditions in the state. It tallies new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.  

Some days the numbers seem particularly grim, especially as we realize that each death marks the loss of a mother, father, sister, brother or friend.  

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, approximately 600 Mainers have died.  

While the toll that COVID has taken is quantified each day with charts and graphs, there is another equally deadly pandemic plaguing the state that gets much less attention: deaths due to drug overdose. 

In 2020, 503 people died as a result of a drug overdosemaking it the deadliest year on record for such deaths. It was a whopping 25 percent more deadly than 2019a year in which 380 lives were lost to drug overdose.  

In January, numbers surged again as 58 deaths were recorded, on pace for another record-setting year. 

With a total of 561 deaths during the last 13 months, overdose deaths were only narrowly eclipsed by the lives lost from COVID. 

Drug overdoses have been on a steady increase since 2009 when roughly 150 Mainers died each year. The most frequent cause of death in these cases is nonpharmaceutical fentanyl. 

The dramatic increase has strained the state’s ability to provide adequate social services and addiction-related resources, but until recently the problem has gotten little attention. 

Last week, in an attempt to bring more focus to the epidemic, the state’s attorney general announced that his office would now release drug overdose deaths monthly rather than the four-times-a-year reporting that takes place now. In a press release, AG Aaron Frey said, “reporting this data more frequently, and eventually adding data for non-fatal overdoses, will enable us to have a better grasp in real-time of the crisis. I am also encouraged by efforts underway from Governor Mills administration and other stakeholders and am pleased that the report will begin to highlight aspects of the state’s response to the crisis, which merits greater attention.” 

Frey said that combatting drug deaths continues to be a priority of the Office of the Attorney General. 

Let’s make sure to hold him to that.  

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