See Maine’s worsening drug overdose problem

The rate of drug overdose deaths in Maine is getting worse along with the rest of the country, driven by addiction to opioids such as prescription painkillers and heroin.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released an analysis of that data Tuesday, as the Maine Legislature and governor on Tuesday approved funding new investigators at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and giving more money to treatment, recovery and education services for people addicted to drugs.

The data included a state-level look at total drug overdose rates for the states and counties, per 100,000 people. (Data specific to opioid overdoses at the county level are not available from the CDC for privacy concerns.)

The personal stories behind the data above have made national headlines as cities have tried to tackle the epidemic and public health officials have called for stronger government response to the problem that’s become worse in New England.

Last month, the HBO documentary “Heroin: Cape Cod, U.S.A.” put focus specifically on heroin addiction in the Northeast, where the drug is generally more profitable for dealers.

In Maine, Attorney General Janet Mills said the problem worsened still in 2015, with more overdose deaths for the year just ended than in 2014, when 208 people died statewide from drug overdoses.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that opioid addiction has been the primary driver for increasing rates of overdose deaths, as more heroin that includes the dangerously potent painkiller fentanyl becomes more prevalent, particularly in states in the Northeast.

The problem is worse in rural areas, the Times reported, as drug deaths reached a new high, at 47,055 deaths last year.

Robert Anderson, the CDC’s head of mortality statistics, told the paper the death rates from drug overdoses are similar to the HIV epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The CDC’s mortality data through 2014 includes more state-level detail on overdoses specific to opioids, which I’ll be taking a closer look at in a future blog post.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, called for the state’s anti-drug efforts to be driven by data as much as possible in an interview with the Bangor Daily News last week.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.