State and local agencies are trying new strategies to stem the loss of life due to a surge of drug overdoses.

There were 3,222 reported fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in Maine between January and May, with 247 resulting in death, according to a May report released by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the University of Maine.

By comparison, the state recorded 504 drug overdose deaths in 2020.

The office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released the state’s annual drug death report in June this year.

“While we continue to understand all the factors that contributed to the tragic increase in drug overdose fatalities over the last year, the preliminary assessment is that the impact of the pandemic in combination with increased lethality of the drug supply that has hit those struggling with substance use disorder hard,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said.

Deaths have been reported in all the 16 counties in the state. The highest number of overdose deaths until May this year have been in Cumberland and Penobscot counties, with 44 and 43 deaths respectively, followed by Androscoggin county with 32 deaths, and Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties reported eight and three deaths.


Of the 247 victims, 232 were identified as White, nine were identified as Black or African American, and six as American Indian/Alaska Native, according to the report.

According to the report, the non-pharmaceutical opioid fentanyl has been responsible for most of those deaths, accounting for 76% of the confirmed deaths so far.

In October 2020, Gov. Janet Mills announced a new OPTIONS (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety) initiative to combat the rise in fatal drug overdoses in the state. As part of the program, the mobile response teams in each county will engage with communities with high overdose rates to promote drug prevention.

“COVID has impacted individuals from getting timely support services,” said Jamie Owens, chief development officer at The Tri-County Mental Health Services, an essential health service organization in Lewiston.

Owens said COVID has created a public health crisis across the board for mental health and well-being for individuals susceptible to substance use disorders.

Substance use disorders are diseases, and they are not personal weaknesses that somebody has the choice of whether they enter into the treatment, she said. “They are much like any other diseases where individuals can have relapse anytime in their recovery journey.”


Through the OPTIONS program, she added that they aim to help victims connect to their choice’s treatment and recovery services.

“While we are treating people, we don’t see them as challenges. It’s an opportunity for us to help them connect to resources that will help them to move on the pathway to recovery,” said Owens.

As part of the OPTIONS initiative, this year in April, the Lisbon Town Council approved a partnership between the police department and Tri-County Mental Health Services to provide overdose prevention service after they felt there was need for drug addition resources in town.

The Lisbon police department has responded to six overdose calls between mid-April and July. Of which, five were male and one was female, and all these people were in the 20 to 30 age group, said Lisbon Police Chief Ryan McGee.

“The program is going in the right direction because we are providing service directly to the people having the drug substance problem. Earlier, we used to recommend them to a doctor, but now we are bringing the councilors directly to the doorstep of an individual. Our goal is to get these individuals a first-hand help,” said McGee. “

McGee added the outreach program has made it easy to help connect people to resources for treatment support.

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