Attorney General Jeff Sessions will visit Portland on Friday to discuss the opioid epidemic with local law enforcement, according to two law enforcement sources.

The event will be held at the Portland office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine, where Sessions is expected to make remarks and discuss the national drug epidemic that continues its deadly toll across New England, according to the law enforcement officials who have knowledge of the event.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank declined to comment on the meeting late Monday, and referred questions to a spokeswoman for Sessions, who said more information on the meeting would be released to the public soon.

The visit comes after Sessions unveiled a task force in February to address the drug crisis by cracking down on manufacturers and distributors of prescription opiates, which were prescribed for years in vast quantities across the United States, leading many users to heroin and other illegal opiates.

Word of Sessions’ visit has already prompted a call for protest. Mainers for Accountable Leadership said on its Facebook page that it intends to demonstrate over the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the border.

All 16 of Maine’s sheriffs have been invited, but it was unclear how many guests from other law enforcement agencies will be invited.


The federal task force will also assist local and state governments that are suing manufacturers for aggressively pushing doctors to prescribe the drugs, often downplaying their addictiveness.

In Maine, the percentage of people whose fatal overdoses were due to prescription drugs is on the decline.

In the first quarter of 2018, more people who died from overdoses were killed by illegal substances, including non-prescription fentanyl, as opposed to pharmaceutical opioids, according the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which tracks the deaths.

About 65 percent of the deaths recorded in the first quarter were due to fentanyl or fentanyl analogs, up from 52 percent in 2016 and 59 percent in 2017. Fentanyl is a cheaper, more powerful alternative to heroin, and many users who believe they are taking heroin are actually using fentanyl.

In April, Portland joined a lawsuit filed by other cities against 20 drug manufacturers and five doctors. Across the nation, state attorneys general have also filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers, mimicking the tactic in the 1990s that led to large cash settlements with tobacco companies that downplayed or covered up the addictiveness of nicotine.

Drug-related deaths are now the leading cause of death nationally for adults under the age of 50, and in 2015 and 2016, drug deaths led to a decrease in Americans’ life expectancy for the first time in decades, according to the Department of Justice.


Maine has been not been spared in recent years.

Drug deaths soared from 155 in 2011 to a record high of 418 in 2017, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

One proven tool for reducing overdose deaths is finally becoming more widely available in Maine. The Board of Pharmacy last week published new rules for making naloxone, a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, available without a prescription. Republican Gov. Paul LePage had repeatedly vetoed bills to expand access to naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, and slowed down the administrative rulemaking process. But the Legislature finally mustered the votes needed to override his opposition and provide access to naloxone for anyone.

The Legislature on Monday also approved roughly $6.6 million in additional opiate treatment funding over LePage’s veto as part of a broader spending bill that incorporates a “hub and spoke” model to further develop local treatment capacity around the state.

A stumbling block to opening up treatment for more Mainers has been the ongoing debate over Medicaid expansion, which would give treatment options to 70,000 more people.

Although expansion passed by referendum, LePage has insisted that the Legislature must first appropriate funds to pay for it. A last-ditch attempt at appropriating the necessary money failed this week when legislators voted not to override LePage’s veto of the spending measure.

The fight is not over, however, because the Maine Supreme Judicial Court could step in after it hears oral arguments next week in a legal challenge brought by expansion advocates who want to force LePage to submit an expansion plan to federal officials.

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