In the midst of our country’s opioid epidemic, there were over 400 fatal overdoses in Maine in 2017. Though cocaine and amphetamine usage also increased last year, 85% of these deaths involved opioids. This marks an 11% increase from 2016, which was a 38% increase from 2015.
In Portland, the largest city in Maine, at least one person overdosed per week. Overall, counties Penobscot, York and Cumberland had the highest opioid overdose rates.
Why did over 400 people in Maine die from overdoses in 2017?
2017 marks the deadliest year in Maine’s opioid epidemic largely due to fentanyl.
According to Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, “Fentanyl has invaded our state, killing 247 people last year alone. Five of these deaths were due to the lethal drug carfentanil. When people ingest this powerful powder, they often believe it is heroin, and have been told it’s heroin.”
A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Though fentanyl is a legal anesthetic, it’s most commonly used by drug traffickers as a cheaper alternative to heroin. When combined with fentanyl, heroin becomes much more potent and therefore dangerous.
Unaware that a batch of heroin also contains a much stronger opioid, users often accidentally overdose on fentanyl. According to the DEA, a two-milligram dose of fentanyl is enough to kill 95% of people who ingest it.
Carfentanil is another powerful opioid often sold in batches of heroin. It’s 100 times more potent than fentanyl, and that much more dangerous. Use of both synthetic opioids is on the rise in Maine and across the country.
What are authorities doing locally and nationwide?
For immediate relief, paramedics are using the opiate antidote Naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan. Over 400 people in Maine died from overdoses in 2017.
One-third of them had Naloxone in their systems, meaning that paramedics had attempted to revive them.
According to Attorney General Mills, Naloxone saved 241 lives last year alone. In 2017, Walgreen’s began selling Naloxone over the counter following the passage of new legislation.
Final Hit: There Were Over 400 Fatal Overdoses in Maine in 2017
Nationally, the opioid epidemic continues to ramp up. According to Dr. Noah Nesin, vice president of medical affairs at Penobscot Community Health Care, “All the [nationwide] projections are that the numbers will continue to increase because the epidemic has not yet reached its peak.”
Though activists and lawmakers have founded education initiatives and doctors are prescribing fewer opioids, the US remains in the midst of a crisis. 64,000 Americans died from opioid use in the first nine months of 2016 alone.
Despite the common misconception that marijuana is a gateway drug, promising research shows that marijuana can treat addiction.