A new report says the number of drug overdoses is growing in Maine, and it appears to be linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said the disturbing findings, released today, confirm that the opioid crisis has intensified.

The report says there were 127 deaths in Maine caused by drugs in the first quarter of this year, a 23% increase over the previous quarter.

The report points to factors including “social isolation, economic difficulty, and reluctance to seek medical attention” during the pandemic.

Read the press release from Maine's Attorney General:

AUGUSTA - The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner have released figures demonstrating that drug overdose deaths significantly increased in the first quarter of 2020. Additionally, preliminary analysis of the second quarter based on numbers from April and May project a continuation of this trend, showing a statistically significant increase in deaths attributed to drug overdose, compared to 2019. Attorney General Aaron M. Frey says that the report makes clear that the opioid epidemic is a serious public health emergency.

"The opioid epidemic remains a crisis requiring our immediate, sustained attention," said Frey. "The data in this report confirms that the crisis has intensified nationally in the midst of the global pandemic. It remains clear that combatting the pandemic, strengthening our public health infrastructure, and taking steps to ensure that Mainers are connected with resources in their community are efforts which are linked with one another. All Mainers are in this struggle together, and I will continue to work with legislators, Governor Mills, the executive branch, and leaders throughout the state to address this crisis."

The report compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, showed that 127 deaths were caused by drugs in the first quarter of 2020. This is a 23% increase over the fourth quarter of 2019. 82% of these deaths were caused by at least one opioid. 80% of deaths included two of more drugs. Preliminary estimates for the second quarter project a total of 235 drug overdose deaths for the first half of 2020.

The report notes that these increases are comparable to increases being seen nationally, which are attributed to the effects of the pandemic, including social isolation, economic difficulty, and reluctance to seek medical attention. Interruptions in drug supplies internationally have resulted in substitutions and combinations that may be contributing to additional vulnerabilities to overdose. Attorney General Frey noted that combatting drug deaths continues to be a priority of the Office of the Attorney General. He is a member of the Governor's Prevention and Recovery Cabinet. The full report from Dr. Sorg is attached.

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