Tuesday marked National Fentanyl Awareness Day as the Maine Drug Data Hub’s March 2023 Overdose Report revealed a total of 2,506 recorded overdoses in Maine this year, 140 of which were fatal.
The Maine Drug Data Hub aggregates state and community information in collaboration with several state departments, the Governor’s Office, and the University of Maine.
While 5.6 percent of overdoses in the first three months of the year were fatal, this is down 11.1 percent from the proportion of fatalities in the first three months of 2022, according to recently released data.
Cumberland, Penobscot, and Androscoggin Counties accounted for 53 percent of the fatal overdoses from January to March.
During this same time period, males accounted for 72 percent of fatal overdoses, with 49 percent of male fatalities being aged 40-59.
92 percent of the 139 confirmed overdose fatalities were among non-Hispanic Whites, with Black/African American non-Hispanics accounting for just 5 percent.
The Data Hub’s information only records overdoses that are reported by law enforcement or medical professionals, so the 2023 statistics likely undercount the true number of overdoses that have occurred so far this year.
After fentanyl, which accounted for 80 percent of overdose fatalities in the first quarter of 2023, cocaine was responsible for 34 percent of the fatalities.
According to the Drug Data Hub’s website, the mission of the project is to “reduce the harm caused by drug use and drug overdose as well as to track the progress toward reaching the goals outlined in Maine’s Opioid Response Strategic Action Plan.”
Maine created a Strategic Action Plan in 2021 aimed at reducing the negative health and economic effects of opioid and other substance use disorders. The plan outlined 10 priorities to achieve this goal, including engagement with state-level leadership and affected communities, hosting educational seminars and events, and the prevention of early use of addictive substances by youth and young adults.
EMS and law enforcement responded to 784 overdoses in January 2023, 794 in February, and 928 in March.
The Maine U.S. Attorney’s Office tweeted on Tuesday that fentanyl remains far and away the leading cause of the overdoses.
The Maine Wire spoke with one couple living on the streets of Portland to find out more about the reality of Maine’s drug epidemic.
The couple decided to leave Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter to set up their tent on public property due to fears of living in an environment with rampant theft and drug use.
“You gotta live like an animal, you gotta sleep with one eye open. You turn your back for one second and your backpack is gone,” the man said.
They spoke about the difficulties of frequently having to move, as well as how hard it is to stay sober in an environment replete with drugs.
The couple also voiced concerns about how asylum seekers seem to be given priority and deference by shelter staff.
“They’ll actually give them help before they give us help,” the woman said, speaking about the large proportion of migrants staying at the Oxford Street Shelter.
Portland is in Cumberland County, the most populous county in Maine, which made up 25 percent of overdose fatalities.
36 percent of 2023 overdose fatalities in Cumberland County were among its homeless and transient population.
“My heart breaks with every life lost to a drug overdose, and my Administration will not rest until we reduce this number to zero,” Governor Mills wrote.
The report found that there were 10,110 overdoses in Maine in 2022, with 716 suspected or confirmed deaths.