AUGUSTA — Kennebec County officials are considering whether they will sign on to a lawsuit against companies that manufacture and distribute opiate drugs.

On Tuesday, Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said commissioners are expecting to hear a presentation about the lawsuit at a future meeting, perhaps later this month, before they make a decision.

Across the country, many state and local governments have been filing suit against the makers and distributors of opiate pain relievers, citing the costs of dealing with the effects of drug addiction in their communities.

In Maine, the cities of Auburn, Bangor, Lewiston, Portland and Waterville already have joined the lawsuit.

In 2017, drug overdoses killed 418 people in Maine. That number is a record, and it’s an 11 percent increase over the 376 overdose deaths reported in 2016. The majority of those deaths have resulted from people taking opiates, either prescription or illegal drugs.

In Kennebec County, 47 overdose deaths were reported in 2017, according to the Expanded Maine Drug Death Report for 2017, issued by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. Of those, 43 were attributed to opioids. Fourteen of those deaths happened in Augusta, and 13 were attributed to opioids.

Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said the effect of widespread addiction plays out every day in the county.

“One thing is fueled by another,” Mason said Tuesday. “People are committing crimes to support their habit, their use of illegal drugs or whatever.”

Once they are arrested and taken to the Kennebec County jail, they become the county’s responsibility.

“If they are heavy users, they become staff-intensive,” Mason said. “We really have to pay attention to them. If they don’t have access to their drugs, they can have serious withdrawals, and it falls to us to make sure we care for them.”

That includes taking inmates to the hospital for care, which means staff members are transporting them and staying with the inmates for the duration of their hospital stay.

The growing addiction crisis also means that the sheriff’s office has on hand doses of Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, which is a rescue medicine for opioid overdose and is available free through the Maine attorney general’s office. Mason said patrol deputies carry it, and it’s available in the event that someone who has been arrested suffers an overdose at the jail.

“It does create a staffing issue,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ