The Mills administration announced Thursday that it is buying $1 million worth of xylazine test strips, the latest effort to slow the record-setting pace of fatal overdoses in Maine.

Xylazine is a powerful sedative that is often combined with fentanyl, a potent opioid that is sometimes laced into other drugs to increase their effect. The combination of xylazine and fentanyl is increasingly contributing to overdose deaths in Maine and the United States.

The test strips will be available at some community-based drug treatment programs and distributed to individuals so they can determine whether the drugs they are using contain xylazine. The money will buy 60,000 test strips.

Fentanyl mixed with xylazine was the cause of 11% of drug overdose deaths in Maine from January through May, or 22 of 253 deaths. That’s up from 2022, when 6% of drug overdose deaths – 46 of 723 – were caused by the drug combination.

“The growing presence of xylazine is making a crisis level situation even worse,” said Gov. Janet Mills, who spoke at the state’s annual Opioid Response Summit in Portland on Thursday. “We have a long way to go in the fight against this epidemic, but it is my hope that these new actions will help reduce the number of lethal overdoses driven by xylazine. My administration will continue to work hard to prevent and treat addiction, and above all else, save lives.”

Because xylazine is not an opioid, overdoses can not be reversed with naloxone, a widely used opioid antidote. But public health officials advise people to still use naloxone to try to revive people who have overdosed, because xylazine is so often used in combination with opioids.


The Mills administration on Thursday also announced that the Office of Behavioral Health will use $1.2 million in federal money to hire nine peer outreach workers who will help connect high-risk people with drug treatment and support services.

The summit on Thursday drew together local, state and federal officials as well opioid recovery experts and medical providers.

The meeting took place as Maine continues to experience near-record rates of fatal overdoses, largely driven by the presence of highly potent fentanyl. The synthetic substance is so plentiful and inexpensive it is now being laced into other drugs to make them more potent, a practice that has driven up the risks of fatal overdoses.

There were 253 overdose deaths statewide from Jan. 1 through May and nearly 4,000 reported cases of non-fatal overdoses, according to the state’s most recent monthly report.

The number of deaths in the first five months of this year is down slightly from 265 during the same period last year. Maine set another new record in 2022 with a total of 723 overdose deaths for the year.

The Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future published an updated Maine Opioid Response Strategic Plan to coincide with the fifth annual summit.

“Maine has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, which has affected countless numbers of our neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family members. Our work is more critical than ever,” said Gordon Smith, director of opioid response. “Our updated strategic action plan, released today, reflects the contributions of many Maine people who offered their thoughts and ideas to support the tens of thousands of Mainers currently living with the chronic illness of addiction, and do more to break this deadly cycle.”

Speakers at the summit included two-high level federal officials: Dr. Yngvild Olsen, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Elizabeth Connolly, assistant director of public health in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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