Maine Gov. Janet Mills attended a remembrance ceremony Thursday, Aug. 31, on International Overdose Awareness Day — as the total number of overdoses in the state so far this year reaches close to 6,000.
Since Mills took office, the number of fatal overdoses in Maine has increased every year.
In 2019, there were 380 overdose deaths.
From 2019 to 2022, a total of 2,232 Mainers have suffered fatal overdoses, according to state statistics.
The ceremony was held in Boothbay, Maine, and hosted by the 716 Candles Project.
The number “716” refers to the number of suspected or confirmed fatal overdoses in Maine last year.
The day before the ceremony, the Department of Transportation brought in heavy machinery and hazmat teams to clear out one of several homeless encampments in Portland that have served as nexuses for drug use and drug trafficking.
At the ceremony, Mills said that her administration “will continue to do all we can to save lives because we know that recovery from substance use disorder is possible.”
“Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, we light candles to chase away the dark of this deadly epidemic,” Mills said. “We remember the people we lost, and we pray they rest in peace.”
“We comfort the friends and family hoping to be reunited with their loved one someday. And we promise here and now to continue our work to prevent overdoses from claiming the life of any other person in the state of Maine,” she said.
According to the Maine Drug Data Hub’s July 2023 Monthly Overdose Report, the total number of nonfatal overdoses for July was 821, and 52 deaths suspected or confirmed to be attributed to drug overdoses.
So far this year, there have been a total of 5,875 nonfatal overdoses, and 366 suspected or confirmed fatal overdoses — 80 percent of which the report categorizes as being due to fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.
In July, the Mills Administration released their 2023-2025 Strategic Action Plan for Opioid Response.
The plan states that in 2022, Maine law enforcement officers seized more than 36 pounds of fentanyl statewide — more 60 percent more than the previous year.
From January to June of this year, Maine Drug Enforcement agents have seized 4.7 pounds of fentanyl, which does not include seizures by local law enforcement, such as 30 pounds of fentanyl seized in Auburn after it was shipped to a local restaurant.
In a Thursday press release, the Mills Administration listed several actions they have taken to address the state’s opioid epidemic, including the distribution of more than 324,755 doses of naloxone, which has been used to reverse almost 8,000 overdoses that may have otherwise been fatal.
Other steps the state has taken include:
- Expanding MaineCare coverage to over 25,000 individuals receiving treatment for substance abuse;
- $6 million to create 140 new residential treatment beds across the state, an increase of nearly 40 percent;
- Expanding Maine’s “Good Samaritan” law in 2022 to encourage individuals to call for assistance when someone is experiencing an overdose;
- Recruiting and training over 1,000 recovery coaches.